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Festival aims at promoting Native language

Faced with plenty of distractions, Aboriginal elders have to work extra hard to keep their language and heritage alive.
Audrey DeRoy, an employee at Fort William Historical Park, teaches students about Aboriginal culture on Friday at Algonquin Public School, part of the public school board's Native Language Festival. (Leith Dunick,
Faced with plenty of distractions, Aboriginal elders have to work extra hard to keep their language and heritage alive.

To get that message through to the younger generation, on Friday they helped host the Native Language Festival at Algonquin Avenue Public School, bringing together elders and students for a day of learning and connections.

Kathy Beardy, who makes a point of speaking in her native Ojibway every day to her nine-month-old granddaughter, said the festival gave First Nations students the opportunity to hear the language, which more often than not these days isn’t spoken within the home.

“It’s a chance to be sharing language with elders, with a different group. They get to hear it, they get to participate, so it’s really important for language learning and speaking,” she said.

“I believe language is really important because it gives young people, or Aboriginal people in general, pride in their culture, their community and for themselves as well.”

They do it out of fear their language could be forever lost in a culture dominated by outside interests.

“I think it is definitely a step to learning language. With all the technology, with video games, there’s such a real language loss and I think it’s important to hold events like this for students. It gives them an opportunity to be part of learning about their culture,” Beardy said.

Twelve-year-old Michael Necan, a Grade 7 student at Algonquin Park School, said he was feeling excited about the festival, and was looking forward to learning a little more about his culture and the traditions passed on from generation to generation.

“It is very important because I really want to learn about what happened (before),” said Michael, who like many of his classmates, had little or no exposure to Ojibway growing up.

Algonquin vice-principal and teacher Darren Lentz said that’s exactly why they school board decided to host the festival, inviting Aboriginal students from schools across the district to take part.

“One of the key factors is celebrating the language. The language is part of the culture. The culture is part of the language; and honouring the kids and their excellence they’ve achieved in learning the language,” Lentz said.

“Studies have shown that acquiring a second language is really important. It helps with their academics, with character development. We recognize that at Lakehead Public Schools and we really want to promote that.”

Students were judged on language speaking skills, songs and educational banners, which lined the walls of the recently refurbished gymnasium. Traditional teaching sand language, as well as a traditional feast, were also shared.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 17 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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