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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Canada’s Indigenous University students reconnect with their roots

Canada’s Indigenous University students reclaim their language and their traditions: they put up posters in Cree that were previously forbidden, works of art on the walls and a tipi on the lawn of the study’s home, which is one of the works on campus. Former boarding school where children from tribal communities were abused.

“They told me we’re not good enough, that we’re below everyone else, and I believed that for most of my life,” says former boarding school student Veronica Fraser.

She wept as she recalled her time in residential school, which was part of a system in which indigenous children were separated from their families and deprived of their culture and language as part of a failed policy of assimilation. was done.

In 130 boarding schools across the country, the goal was “to kill the Indian in the heart of the child”.

Despite the suffering, Fraser decided to return to the site, which in 2015 became the Nuhelotin Thyots’e Nisthmeimakanak Blue Quills University.

“I came here to regain my pride” and “to heal and learn,” he says.

Again, she is a student at the center, although things have changed. He is studying BA in Nehiyawevin (Cree language) at the university. Her studies have helped her rediscover her roots and she hopes to be able to speak the language fluently with her children and grandchildren.

About 200 kilometers northeast of the provincial capital, Edmonton, and near St. Paul, Alberta, is a century-old red brick building that was part of a wider network of Canadian schools.

By the 1990s, approximately 150,000 Indigenous, Inuit and Métis children were held in schools that were often run by the Catholic Church.

Thousands of minors are believed to have died of neglect and malnutrition. The discovery of at least 1,300 unmarked graves at these sites in the past year has prompted extensive self-search.

The province of Alberta was the one with the most apprenticeships, and this is where Pope Francis plans to apologize next week for the church’s role in that system.

-The suffering of many generations –

Many parents did not give their children a language, either to protect them from abuse, or because they forgot their mother tongue after going through public schools.

According to university president Sherry Chison, Cree is too difficult for young people who have grown up without learning.

Currently, approximately 250 students enroll at this university to study economics, sociology, Cree and Dene languages ​​as well as cultural practices.

Paul’s boarding school began with a 1970 protest by parents demanding that they be given control over their children’s education.

Before becoming a university, the boarding school became Canada’s first Aboriginal community-run school through an agreement with the federal government.

“We’re recovering what was stolen,” says Wayne Jackson, head of the Cree language program. “Our heritage, our language, our culture, our customs, our stories.”

– beyond words –

According to the 2016 Census of Statistics Canada, Cree is the most widely spoken Aboriginal language in the country, with over 96,000 speakers in Canada. Despite this, it is endangered, as most are older, which puts it at risk of continued transmission.

Some students enroll in university to improve their language skills to teach the language to new generations in their respective communities.

Edwin Thomas, an Aboriginal man from central Saskatchewan, is bilingual, but he decided to train the youth of his community to teach Cree.

“Being able to study at Blue Quills, an institution created to deprive my ancestors of their language, is very important and moving,” he says.

One of her companions, Taryn Cardinal, is focusing on treating the skin of a mousse. The student explains that the tanning of animal skins, which is part of the curriculum, helps her learn about both her culture and her language.

“There are things that can’t be translated into English and it’s important to feel them,” says the second-year student, who is now able to have small conversations with her grandmother in Cree.

“I feel proud of myself for it, I feel like we’re closer, more connected: me and my culture, me and my grandmother, me and my other people,” says the 26-year-old.

However, Wayne Jackson worries it’s all too fragile. “It is enough that a generation of speakers do not speak a language to lose it.”

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