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!

This entry was posted in Workshops and Conferences by Elise. Bookmark the permalink.

About Elise

Elise got her BA in Linguistics from McGill in 2012, having written her undergraduate thesis about Mi'gmaq possession. She spent that summer working closely with the teachers at the Listuguj Education Centre, and learned a lot! She was lucky to be able to spend two years devoting her time to the various programs run through this blog, and working at the McGill Prosodylab. Now, she's working on her MA in Linguistics at the University of British Columbia.

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