Indigenous language learning and revitalization work is necessarily relational and often territorially-based. Across Canada, the US, and the world, a large number of Indigenous communities, organizations, and individuals are working hard to keep their languages alive and bring them back into everyday use through early childhood and school-based immersion programs, language classes for various ages, curriculum, and recording projects with proficient speakers, amongst a myriad of other strategies. Indigenous language revitalization (ILR) work often fights for space on the “societal agenda” and even within communities themselves to be a priority. The pandemic crisis that hit in March of 2020 had the potential to silence this language work and reduce it to be seen as non-critical activity, once again. The majority of language work is face-to-face and therefore had to halt immediately for the safety of our speakers, learners, and communities at large.
While language workers took a moment to catch their breath amongst the rapid changes and the new and real dangers in their midst, what Indigenous peoples do and have always done in the face of danger and adversity is adapt. Indigenous communities quickly began to create digital and other visual resources in the languages for teaching community members about the dangers of the new virus as well as protective measures, such as proper handwashing technique social media posters and videos. In video-chats with speakers, learners asked how to say “toilet paper” in their languages and shared these recordings with the world, bringing much needed humour – and another reminder of Indigenous ways of survival to the fore. These early responses also showed that just like the water, our languages always find a way. Using these available tools, platforms, and opportunities, the work can safely propel forward and not allow the precious language work to fall away in this time of crisis.
McIvor, O., Chew, K. A. B., Stacey, K. I., Jenni, B., & Marinakis, A. (2020, November 19). Indigenous language learning: Researching the impacts and opportunities of COVID19 [Conference presentation]. 2020 International Indigenous Research Conference, Online.