Recounting Hawai’i Part 3: Culturally-Situated Language Assessment

Three  months later,  I am still thinking about the talks at ICLDC. I thought I could close out my series of blog posts with a mention of a great talk by Melody Ann Ross (Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow, University of Hawai’i). Her talk focused on assessment planning for language programs—a part that is often overlooked or forgotten until the last minute (lack of planning). Does successful implementation program really mean that the program is successful? This, of course, depends on the program, on the community, and the learners involved, among other things. With the permission of the author, I am sharing the slides. I encourage everyone to take a look at them: Ross_AssessmentSlides.pdf

Recounting Hawai’i Part 2: Culturally-situated language revitalization in action

In my previous blog post, I talked about the idea of culturally-situated language research, as presented by keynote speaker Lenore Grenoble. For the minute, allow me to skip the many other interesting talks and points made at ICLDC; let me take you to Hilo, located on the big island of Hawai’i, where ‘ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language) is full of vigor. On March 2nd we had the pleasure of touring Nāwahīokalani’ōpu’u campus, a Preschool-12th grade (P-12) school, where approximately 2,200 students are instructed completely in Hawaiian (see website for more info: We were greeted ceremoniously by all the students and teachers in the school; the greeting was a traditional chant, which granted us permission to enter the school and learn (about Hawaiian language and culture). This ceremony is performed daily by all the students, asking permission of their teachers to learn.

While touring the school I noticed that every part of the students’ education somehow connected to the Hawaiian way of life. For example, on campus there is a large garden; there are guava trees, banana tress, a pineapple grove, coffee shrubs…students learn about these trees, when the season to pick the fruit are, how to pick the fruit and take care of the trees.

A coffee shrub, one of the many fantastic trees growing in the school garden.

A coffee shrub, one of the many fantastic trees growing in the school garden.

They also learn to take care of pigs that are kept on the grounds. In addition, our guides, Malia and Kamaile, both in 10th grade, explained that every Friday the whole school goes outside to learn about their surroundings, whether on campus or at the beach, where students can study ecology, biology, geology, etc.

A pig, raised on the school grounds.

A pig, raised on the school grounds.

The idea is that students learn by doing, hands-on, through a medium that is culturally relevant to Hawai’i..all of this done in the language, of course. I found another example of this in the classroom; in the back of every classroom is a corner with photos of students’ parents, grandparents and other family members. Our guides explained that having photos of their kupuna (ancestors) helps students remember why they are there; why they are learning the language and that they want to make their family proud as they will one day represent them out in the world. It is a way to make connections to language, culture, ancestry. This is only a small part of a larger, holistic approach to Hawaiian education, which is described in this following video:

But here, again, the most striking thing to me was the fact that everything was culturally-situated. The success of the Hawaiian revitalization program is tied to the fact that the language is made relevant in everyday situations; it is normalized and connected to students both physically, emotionally and spiritually.

He mana ko ka ‘ōlelo = there is power in language
Left to Right: Carolyn, Kamaile, Malia and I after our guava harvest.

Left to Right: Carolyn, Kamaile, Malia and I after our guava harvest.

Countdown: 5 days until Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop 2

With the second Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop  right around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone how fun the first workshop was last year!


Photo by Janine Metallic.

 Highlight #1: At our first workshop we had two guest speakers from different Mi’gmaq communities—Bernard Jerome from Gesgapegiag and Jaime Battiste from Eskasoni. The speakers related their personal experiences with the language, and how speaking Mi’gmaq has influenced their life. Many students and Elders were happy to see the speeches given half in Mi’gmaq and half in English. Travis Wysote noted, “The speakers were eloquent, a natural occurrence when our People speak from their hearts.”

Highlight #2: The goal of the workshop was not only to inform community members about resources available for Mi’gmaq language-learning, but to foster dialogue between Elders and young language learners. In the second half of our workshop, the audience formed groups for discussion and talked about the state of the language in the community. Afterwards, students were asked to briefly summarize what was discussed in their group.

Students and Elders talking about the language.

Students and Elders talking about the language. Photo by Janine Metallic.

Mary-Beth Wysote wrote,

“The part that I enjoyed the most was the discussions. I loved hearing what the elders in my group had to say. […]  I realized after hearing what the elders had to say in our discussion group was that they regret not passing on the language and are genuinely afraid that the language will someday soon be lost. They also thought that the youth are not interested in learning Mi’gmaq which I can imagine discouraged them a bit. I don’t think I would have ever known how the elders felt towards the language had I not attended this workshop and they would not have known how us youth felt. The assumptions that we had about each other were wrong”

Highlight #3: Fun booths about a variety of topics were set up around the venue.

“The booths were interesting and ranged from more formal ones to informal ones and the information they shared was of critical importance with regards to language retention and language revitalization. Perhaps this was why the discussions were so lively.” (Travis Wysote)

We hope you can make it to this year’s workshop! Help us make language learning fun; bring your kids, your family, your pets!


Everyone having fun! Photo by Janine Metallic.

Tliultesgultesnen Bingo Hall—‘we will all meet at the Bingo Hall’


Twitter, instagram, language club and more!

There are many new developments going on this summer to spread the Mi’gmaq language. Follow us on instagram, twitter and facebook to stay involved!

Twitter – @learnmigmaq follow word of the day #migmaqwordoftheday

Instagram – @learnmigmaq weekly videos with vocabulary and dialogue in the Mi’gmaq language. Also check out Savvy Simon’s videos on instagram (@msnativewarrior). L’nuisi, it’s that easy!

Listuguj Mi’gmaw Language Club – Weekly conversation group meeting every Thursday at 6pm at the Listuguj Education Directorate. All activities are solely in Mi’gmaq – a great way to practice conversation in Mi’gmaq.

Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop 2 - Check out our webpage under the workshop section for more information. This event will take place August 5th at the Listuguj Bingo Hall.

How to get involved

Be a part of our social media team! For Mi’gmaq videos, posts or pictures just use the hashtag #SpeakMikmaq or #SpeakMigmaq

Dr. Morcom’s Seminar on Language Programming

A few weeks ago Janine and I attended Dr. Lindsay Morcom’s seminar on “Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity”. The following are some highlights from her seminar.

  • The medium is the message. We view the education system as a system that can tell you what is useful and what is important. If your language is not part of the equation , then you are told that it is not important. This was the way schools used to rob language from children in the past. But, by the same reasoning, there is is no reason that a school system in the hands of Native people shouldn’t be able to counteract the damage inflicted in the past.
  • There is a high correlation between immersion programming and self esteem (collective and personal). Taylor & Wright (1995) (see attached article) conducted a study with Inuit, White, and mixed-heritage participants to see the connection between heritage language instruction and self-esteem. The results showed that early heritage language education had a positive effect on personal and collective self-esteem of minority-language students. This has many long-term benefits, such as a stronger sense of personal identity, stronger connection to collective identity (feeling like you belong to a group), and positive impacts on academic success.
  • Aboriginal language immersion programs have an important role in language revitalization, maintenance, and education. Usborne et al. (2011) (see attached article) compared a strong Mi’gmaq immersion program with a Mi’gmaq as a second language (L2) program, and found that students in the immersion program not only had stronger Mi’kmaq language skills compared to students in the L2 program, but students within both programs ultimately had the same level of English. This ultimately shows that learning a Native language at a young age does not negatively impact the process of mainstream language-learning.
  • The type of language programming (immersion, L2 ) should be decided on a case-by-case basis, as it is more of a continuum: programs of study in the language, programs of study for the language, or a combination of both. Factors that should be considered: what is the goal of the community? what is the history of the community with the language? what  is the status of the language now? (e.g. is it used everyday in the community? are there many fluent speakers?) Illustrated with 3 case studies: Pokomchi’, Dene, and Michif.
  • Native language programming allows students to learn through a culturally-appropriate lens, which is important. Just as everyone has different learning styles (visual, aural, tactile)  a culturally-appropriate lens can be conducive to learning and can help propagate traditional practices, values, etc.

For those interested to find out more, there were two articles that we discussed: Identity and the Language of the Classroom and Learning through an Aboriginal language – the impact on students’ English and aboriginal language skills. Also, Dr. Morcom has allowed us to post her slides from the seminar, which you can find here: Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity.




45th Algonquian Conference Highlights

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership members were well represented at this year’s 45th Algonquian Conference at University of Ottawa in the Canadian national capital. Here is the conference round-up:

FEL round-up (3/3): Talks and Sessions

[This post is the last of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others are linked to from this main post.]

In the three days of sessions, I went to a whole lot of very exciting talks. Here are my notes from some (but not all) of the ones that I enjoyed the most!

  • Being Cree in the 21st Century Through Language, Literacy, and Culture: Iyiniwoskinîkiskwewak (Young Women) Take on the Challenges. Stelómethet Ethel B. Gardner, Heather Blair, and Shelby Laframboise-Helgeson (University of Alberta)
    • Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute (CILLDI) runs annually to help show speakers of Indigenous languages new strategies for teaching, documenting, and looking at their languages. While the Institute was running, speakers would travel to Edmonton to take part, often bringing  young/adolescent family members with them.
    • The Young Women’s Circle of Leadership was started in 2008 as a way to involve this younger generation in Cree cultural activities and language work.
    • The first group of young women who participated wrote a belief statement: Young Aboriginal Women: fun, cooperative, caring, respectful, responsible, strong, talented, essential and contributing members of our communities!
    • Since 2008, the Language Warriors (Taiaiake Alfred’s term) of this program have stuck by this mission statement.
    • The camp runs for 8 days, engaging the young women through many media and activities: creative theatre, storytelling, woodworking, traditional and contemporary arts, computers and new technology, swimming, rock climbing, and teachings from elders.
    • The talk ended by giving some quotes from the young women who had done the camp, which I foolishly didn’t write down. One of them spoke about how she felt prepared to start grade 7 as a new person and a stronger leader. It was all very uplifting!
  • Collaborations and Connections between an Aboriginal Organisation and Endangered Language Speakers: Interpreting and Translating in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Thomas Saunders (Kimberley Interpreting Service Aboriginal Corporation)
    • The Kimberley has members of all 5 of Western Australia’s language families–it’s a very linguistically diverse region! It’s therefore very important for important documents (e.g. health- and service-related notices, court documents, etc) to be available in a wide variety of languages.
    • Kimberley Interpreting Service Aboriginal Corporation (founded 2001) is a company which provides translation and interpreting services.
    • They focus on court, police, and medical work, and provide real recognition for speakers’ skills by employing speakers to work on translation and interpretation in their native languages.
    • This presentation was very interesting to me because it was one of the few that wasn’t affiliated with an academic institution. It was a great example of endangered languages being used for practical, everyday purposes, and speakers having their expertise respected in the tangible sphere of employment. Particularly when many speakers of endangered languages have faced discrimination and institutional barriers from industry in the past, it’s nice to see a bit of turn-around.
  • Standardization of the Inuit Language in Canada. Jeela Qiliqti Palluq-Cloutier (Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, Government of Nunavut)
    • Aqqaluk Lynge: “No other organization in this world, no one else can save your language for you.”
    • This presentation was discussing the difficulties of making one standard orthography for the Inuit language.
    • There is a dialect spectrum in the Inuit language–generally different dialects are mutually understandable out loud, but each variation comes with another new way of writing, so often written documents can seem very opaque from one region to another.
    • 4 regions of Inuit in Canada: NWT/Nunatsiaq (20% of the area speak the Inuit language); Labrador/Nunatsiavut (27% speak); Nunavut (91% speak); Northern Québec/Nunavik (99% speak).
    • Some differences in phonemes that are very noticeable: choices between… l/r/d; n/ɳ; s/h/sh/sr; j/r/z. Consonant clusters vary too, with some clusters becoming geminates. People write what they say.
    • There are also grammatical and lexical differences between regions, too!!
    • Currently, E. Nunavut and Nunavik use syllabics; Nunatsiaq, W. Nunavut, and Nunatsiavut use Roman orthography.
    • The presentation ended with call for research to be done to find what would be the best way to compromise to one orthography about which there can be consensus. How does a group negotiate intuitive spelling (matching closely your personal spoken dialect) vs. broad accessibility across the language community?
      • I’d be very curious to hear what you think the best option for this situation is! Meet me in the comments section?
  • Linking Culture and Language to Aboriginal Children’s Outcomes: Lessons from Canadian Data. Leanne C. Findlay & Dafna E. Kohen (Statistics Canada)
    • Focus on children’s data from Aboriginal Children’s Survey & Aboriginal People’s Survey. ACS: Kids 0-6, mostly off-reserve. APS: 1991, 2001, 2006, 2012. in and off-reserve, aged 14yrs and under.
    • Looking at themes of cultural continuity and self-esteem, where the outcomes of interest are verbal skills, prosocial outcomes, and hyperactivity/inattention.
    • Kids participating in cultural activities and language have great outcomes for verbal and behavioural skills. Kids learning Aboriginal languages are also doing better at school and looking forward to school more.
    • While survey questions can only give a vague and extremely generalized view of any situation, the presentation was adamant that such quantitative data could open the door for qualitative data to follow.
    • during the Q&A afterwards, one person brought up the idea of “language kits” midwives can give to expectant mothers, so that even if they are not themselves speakers they might have a resource for the language (songs and such). Another person said that Bernie Francis has a kit like this for Mi’gmaq!
  • An Inquiry into Two Aboriginal Language Immersion Programs. Joanne Tompkins, Anne Murray-Orr, Sherise Paul-Gould, Starr Sock/Paul, Roseanne Clark & Darcy Pirie (St Francis Xavier University; Eskasoni Elementary and Middle School, Eskasoni First Nation; Tobique First Nation)
    • This presentation talked about two immersion schools, one Mi’gmaw and one Wolastoqi/Maliseet.
    • Eskasoni has had a K-3 Mi’gmaw immersion program for 10 years; Tobique has had a K4 & K5 Maliseet immersion program for 3 years.
    • In Tobique, lunchtime was a great opportunity for contact between immersion students, sitting together and speaking in the language. The program also encouraged a strong link between school and Elder’s Centre, taking the kids there to visit on a regular basis.
    • Speaking with the kids and their teachers universally yielded themes of confidence, leadership, communicative ability, authentic language, and academic achievement. Hooray for immersion programs!
    • Initially, some had been afraid that the bridging years between immersion and English education would reveal failures in the students’ English-language abilities. But when they looked at the actual numbers, a very different story emerged:
      •  Of the 81 kids in grade 7: 16 are former immersion, 65 non-immersion.
      • When it comes to reading levels, the 40 students reading reading below XYZ (the provincial standard for that age level) were all pure English-educated–no immersion students had below XYZ competence.
      • Further, 13 students were reading at the Z level (the highest): 12 of those were students from the immersion class!
      • The bridging years had done their work and the immersion students were all caught up, often with a lot of enthusiasm for school that propelled their achievements.
    • Overall, these two schools found very powerful values of fluency, identity, and student achievement linked with their immersion programs. Very inspiring!
  • Using all the Pieces to Solve the Puzzle: the Importance of Aboriginal Language Assessment in Child Populations. Lori Morris & Marguerite MacKenzie (Université de Québec à Montréal; Memorial University)
    • Since normally-developing bilingual kids can look like kids with language difficulties, this presentation focused on the importance of measuring language use in all the languages spoken by a child, not just the dominant one in which schooling is taking place. Challenge: It’s hard to distribute tests between 2 languages.
    • 3 towns: Pessamit (QC), Sheshashit (NL), Natuashish (NL). The language context in these three towns is “diglossic with a winner and a loser”–two languages are spoken, but the colonial language (French or English) seems to be overpowering Innu in each town.
    • The researchers do a longitudinal assessment from when the children first start at school through their elementary years. The first cohort they worked with is (I think) 10 years old now. They tested breadth and use of vocabulary in both the colonial language and Innu.
    • The general pattern they found is that when you start school, if you’re good in one language, you’re often good in both languages.
    • The students’ abilities have shown gains since the original measures (as is to be expected). What wasn’t expected was that… “As Innu gets better, so does French.” For the first year, language skills correlated significantly and positively! But once kids have been in school for a while, the positive correlations fade away.
    • The take-home message was the benefit of performing analysis of linguistic competence in both languages, not just in one or the other. Some students who would have been classified as having abnormal language development were actually very typical bilinguals; others who needed additional teacher assistance were able to get it tailored to their own needs.

There were a lot of other very good talks at this conference (including one by some names that may be familiar: Sarkar, Metallic, Baker, Lavoie, & Strong-Wilson!) but this post is already very-very long. I’d be happy to talk with anybody in the comments section about this post, or anything else mentioned in the FEL program that I didn’t talk about here. Thanks for reading!

FEL round-up (2/3): Keynote Speakers

[This post is two of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others will be linked to from this main post as they go up.]

The keynote speakers on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were all phenomenal, providing a lot of insight from a wide variety of experiences.

  • Nuk’wantwal’ – Collaborative and Community-centered approaches to language vitalization from an Indigenous perspective. Lorna Williams (Canada Research Chair, Indigenous Knowledge and Learning, University of Victoria)
    • Nuk’wantwal': to help one another, to ask to help. This talk was about her work and experiences in language revitalization. She spoke about…
    • biased & racialized demands for accountability in funding
    • countering colonial/majority language bias
    • the fact that people who come to help have differing goals from each other: “Outside experts can fragment communities.” “When we choose to help, we need to be responsible for the kind of help we give.” “Each of us needs to be willing to be changed.”
    • the importance of fighting against the age-based stratification that is so prevalent in Canadian society, making it so that we see a lot of our peers and very little of our elders and juniors. The Mentor-Apprentice program is one strategy useful in countering this stratification.
    • establishing speaker communities as safe spaces for the language
    • the language as the voice of the land
    • support for parents of children in immersion programs–children would learn stories in school, and go home to tell the same story to their families. This strategy helps ensure the language doesn’t get locked up inside the walls of the school, but lives throughout the community.
  • The Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative: Assessment, Promotion, and Collaboration. Lenore A. Grenoble (Inuit Circumpolar Council, Canada; University of Chicago)
    • the Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative (AILI) represents about a half dozen language families around the Arctic Circle. It has 8 constituent nations (voting members) and 6 Indigenous groups (permanent participants).
    • focus on networking and collaboration, Indigenous frameworks for assessing language vitality, and sharing data/resources
      • for Arctic communities, there are huge practical obstacles to long-distance collaboration! Even just organizing a conference call means juggling a huge number of different time zones. Getting together in person for a meeting requires even more incredible feats of organization. (Thank goodness for the Internet.)
    • current projects are prioritizing an Indigenous framework for language vitality assessment, as well as matters of language acquisition (a lengthy process) and language policy in each of the member countries.
    • In the question period, she also briefly discussed that an ideological shift away from monolingualism is necessary! Multilingualism is (and always has been) doable and is currently the best way forward.
    • there are two websites for the ALI: the older one is here and the new one (still under construction) is here. Please do check them out!
  • Protective effects of language learning, use and culture on the health and well-being of Indigenous people in Canada. Onawa McIvor (University of Victoria)
    • speaking to the strong link between culture and health (and land & health).
    • there is not a ton of research done on language as it interacts with health. the most prevalent themes in the existing literature are of Indigenous languages as barriers to health outcomes for monolingual speakers, making it harder to access medical services if you don’t operate in a majority language as well as your Indigenous one.
    • however, when you look at the positive themes, and allow for multilingualism in your conception of Indigenous language speakers, the positive links between language and health are very present.
    • Hallett, Chandler, & Lalonde (2007) look at language and suicide rates in British Columbia, finding that communities with high language knowledge also had low suicide rates. (PDF of that paper is here)
    • Ball & Moselle (2013) looked at the First Nations Regional Health Survey, and  Aboriginal Head Start. From the paper… “The purpose of the report is to bring together current conceptualizations and empirical support for the importance of language and culture in Aboriginal children’s wellness, education, and opportunities for quality of life.”
    • Kirmayer, Dandeneau, Marshall, Phillips, & Williamson (2011) talk about positive mental health effects from language, presenting a “social-ecological view of resilience” which integrates learnings from collaborative work with some Inuit, Métis, Mi’gmaq, and Mohawk groups.
    • she ended her talk with a simple recommendation for language revitalization: take it seriously. Things the government could do to help included funding language projects, and making Indigenous languages at least regionally co-official (as in the NWT). At one point she added, “The way that Aboriginal language revitalization is funded in Canada is nothing short of a disgrace.” Strong words, and a strong call for action!

Thanks for reading–I’m very lucky to have heard these speakers talk, and I wanted to share as much of that experience as I could. Please let me know if any of the links are broken!

FEL (1/3): Movie Night

[This post is one of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others will be linked to from this main post as they go up.]

I’m very much a movie person, so I loved having the chance to watch We Still Live Here/Âs Nutayuneân a second time. If you click the title, you can watch clips from the video. The whole film isn’t free online anywhere, but you can buy it on iTunes! The story of Jessie Little Doe-Baird and the Wampanoag who worked together to wake their language back up after 6 generations is purely inspirational, a total must-watch.

In the context of a conference that focused on “endangered” languages, it felt so hopeful and essential to get the reminder than languages don’t simply go extinct like species of plants or animals. Animals like the sea mink are never coming back, but thanks to historical documents, speakers of related languages, dedication, hard work, and collaboration, Wampanoag is being spoken again in Massachusetts. There were more than a few damp eyes in the room during our screening, let me tell you that.

Other clips we watched included…

  • Reflections Part One, by Jeff Bear (Maliseet). (Part Two is here)
  • Nikamowin (song), by Kevin Lee Burton (Cree)
  • A clip from Qanurli? (What Now?) (Inuktitut)
  • A clip from Takuginai (Look Here), aka the Inuit Sesame Street. The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation has been running it since 1986!! We were lucky to have two of the co-producers (Mike Kerr and Cynthia Pitsiulak) come and talk to us about the program, and about IBC in general. (I will admit I daydreamed for a few minutes about a Mi’gmaw Takuginai… The Listuguj Education Directorate definitely has the puppets, anyway!)

Foundation for Endangered Languages conference round-up

October 1-4 was the Foundation for Endangered Languages annual conference in Ottawa! Gretchen made a blog post about it while we were there, and did a lot of good work helping to fill up the #FEL2013 Twitter tag with some interesting quotes from talks. It’s a bit late, but I thought it would be nice to do a round-up post on the blog too, like this one I did after ICLDC this spring. I started writing it, then realized that it was getting tremendously long! So instead, I’ll make a bunch of shorter posts, and this central one will link to each of them in turn. So far there are three posts planned–hopefully I can keep it to that!

  1. Movie Night, particularly the film We Still Live Here/Âs Nutayuneân
  2. Keynote Speakers
  3. Sessions and Talks