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Indigenous language Immersion in Canada
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Indigenous language Immersion in Canada


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What does Indigenous Language Immersion look like? Is it possible? What needs to be done?

What does Indigenous Language Immersion look like? Is it possible? What needs to be done?

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  • The Akwesasne Freedom School (AFS) was founded in 1979 by Mohawk parents concerned with the lack of cultural and linguistic services available in local public schools.   As an independent elementary school, AFS has existed on a shoestring budget for over 25 years. In 1985, the parents who administer the school made a historic decision to adopt a total Mohawk immersion curriculum. It was a historic decision. AFS was the first to implement this curriculum and did so without approval or funding from state, federal or provincial governments. The school continues to immerse its students in levels Pre-K to 6 in the Kanienkéha (Mohawk) language and culture. All instruction, as well as recess periods, outdoor activities, field trips, meals and extracurricular activities are conducted in the Mohawk language. Levels 7, 8 and 9 are transition classes whereby the students are taught English, although Mohawk language and culture continues. 
  • The Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (Thanksgiving Address) serves as the foundation of all curriculum at the Akwesasne Freedom School. Each day begins with the opening which is recited from memory by the students.  This process aids in developing young minds to be good public speakers. Subject areas such as science, social studies, health, language arts and mathematics are covered within a theme in relation to the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen and always with the goal that the students will have the ability to make wise decisions for future generations.  **Please see Handout to read the “Thanksgiving Address” These subjects are taught in a way that helps the students understand their own way of life from a physical, historical, economic and human perspective. Contemporary events are examined with a traditional point of view as a guide. Each area of the program consists of a scope of learning experiences, resources and materials required for each student to build knowledge and skills, as well as the ability to internalize the customs, patterns, language and attitudes necessary to practice traditional Kanien’kehá:ka culture.
  • Kindergarten and Grade 1 : Anihshiniimowin is the language of teaching and learning. Grade 2: Anihshiniimowin is taught, studied and is the language of teaching and learning in all other subjects. English is taught for one hour a day. Grade 3: Anihshiniimowin is taught, studied and is the language of teaching and learning other subjects for three hours a day. English is taught and used for two hours a day. Grades 4 & 5: Both Anihshiniimowin and English are taught and studied as subjects, with 50% of the time devoted to each language. Grade 6: Both Anihshiniimowin and English are subjects and languages of instruction. Anihshiniimowin is used two hours a day and English three hours a day. Grades 7 & 8: Both Anihshiniimowin and English are subjects and languages of instruction. Anihshiniimowin is used one hour a day and English four hours a day. On the side, there are samples of student work.
  • Documentation and Preservation - Creating dictionaries, taping Elder’s speaking in the language, incorporating the use of computers like smart boards or Cd Roms, web-based resources are included such as: www.first Curriculum/Resources Development – Creating print resources such as maps or historical stories, short movies of life on the land. Language Engineering/ Language Table - Indigenous languages are living and include new words like technology or health words and contemporary sayings, etc. Teacher training/Post-secondary Initiatives – Training indigenous teachers program like LU has called, “The Native Language Teacher Program. This training provides native teachers with strategies for language retention and revitalization. Policy Development and Political Advocacy - Political organizations like the Assembly of First nation or Treaty Organizations to raise awareness in political arenas to find means to fund community projects. Research - Some communities are choosing specific research partnerships with linguistic scholars to learn how the community can focus research on language revitalization on the attitudes of young people towards language loss and learning. Language Classes - Language classes are what typically comes to mind when we thinking of language class for students/kids during school hours. Unfortunately, this classroom method does not create fluent language speakers. Bilingual Community controlled schooling – An example of this is when a indigenous school has grades Kindergarten to grade 3- teachers students to read and write in the indignous language and then slow integrets student in the english language which would eventually lead students to be speaking and writing english by grade 8. *Some scholars view this method to not be near successful as a Full immersion program. Immersion Practices Cross-generational/community-based K-12 Immersion
  • The government of Canada needs to take action for the responsibility that has been acknowledged for the residential school experience. Although individual payments have been made to victims of residential schools (which is an important gesture), the most meaningful impact the government could make is to support initiatives for language revitalization. Indigenous languages must be given official status by being declared the founding languages of Canada The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (1966) and the Towards a New Beginning report completed by the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures in 2005 outline recommendations could solve many problems. The Creation of a National Center of Indigenous Languages –Similar to the national Aboriginal Health Organization in order to coordinate orthographies, learning resources, curriculum, databases of speakers and research efforts. A Life-Span Approach to Language Revitalization Indigenous languages must be established as living, working languages in families and communities- Langauage tables – creation of words and discussions, Hosting community events that promote pride in learning the language through the use of language camps and other community events that encourage and strengthen language use
  • Transcript

    • 1. Indigenous Language Immersion in Canada
      • Childhood and School Programs
      Indigenous Culture Based Education Lakehead University
    • 2. Background
      • Of the 12 language groups in Canada, only 3 are predicted to survive with no immediate intervention
      • many reasons for this, including language genocide, social mobility, nationalism, reduction of indigenous populations
      • language is a person’s main link to identity, both personally and collectively as a community and is recognized as one of the most tangible symbols of culture and group
    • 3. why are language programs important?
      • language revitalization
      • language maintenance
      • language growth(evolving)
      ...without language “songs will no longer have words...”
    • 4. There are many different forms of indigenous language instruction...
    • 5. Core Language Programs Core language programs focus on teaching an indigenous language in one separate class Amount of time allotted and quality of language instruction will vary depending on region and individual school
    • 6. Language Nests Preschool immersion childcare programs conducted entirely in the home language of an indigenous group; Focus is on authentic language learning; These programs can be run from birth; Concept originated in Australia and New Zealand over 20 years ago
    • 7. Immersion Programs
      • full immersion programs will integrate the first language fully in 100% of the classes up to a determined point
      • sheltered immersion programs begin with 100% first language instruction in the early years, with english being introduced first orally and then through reading and writing as the student progresses in age and/or grade - eventually the student will receive full instruction in english
      • first language immersion programs aim to fully incorporate both language and culture into programming
    • 8. Language Immersion School Akwesasne Freedom School Akwesasne, Ontario Propose: By focusing on our young people, we reverse the assimilation process and ensure that the Mohawk people do not lose their language, culture and identity .
    • 9. Language Immersion School
      • The Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen
      Akwesasne Freedom School Total Immersion = Good Public Speakers
    • 10. Bilingual Program
      • Purpose:
      • Bilingual--able to speak, read and write in Anihshiniimowin and English
      • Bicultural--know and are able to live in both cultures
      • Have the knowledge and skills to succeed in high school
      Sioux Lookout, Ontario
    • 11. Bilingual Program
      • Teaching Model
      • The Kwayaciiwin Immersion Program is bilingual and teaches students fluency and literacy in Anihshiniimowin and English.
    • 12. Bilingual Program
      • Services Provided by the Centre
      • Kwayaciiwin Education Resource Centre provides support services to the 24 First Nations of the Sioux Lookout District. Services provided include:
        • Curriculum guidelines based on culture and values
        • Curriculum resources and books
        • Capacity development--training for Principals and Education Directors
        • Professional development workshops for district schools
        • Support in literacy, numeracy and student retention through FNSSP.
    • 13. Does it confuse you when i refer to animals as people? In my language it is not confusing....we consider both animals and peoples to be living beings....when my people see a creature in the distance, they say awiiyak (someone is there). it is not that my people fail to distinguish animals from people. Rather, the address them with equal respect. once they are near and [identifiable]....then they use their particular name. (elder, royal commission on aboriginal peoples, 1996, p.123)
    • 14. Strategies for Indigenous Language Revitalization and Maintenance
      • Documentation and preservation
      • Curriculum/ Resources development
      • Language Engineering
      • Bilingual Schooling
      • Policy Development and Political Advocacy Research
      • Language Classes
      • Bilingual Schooling
      • Immersion Practices : Cross-generational/community based
      • **Immersion Schooling
    • 15. Challenges
      • Community support
      • Financial support
      • Materials development
      • Indigenous teacher training
      • Assessment
      • Low number of speakers
      • Lack of language status
      • Lack of official support
      • External social, economic and political pressure
      • Lack of interest among young people
    • 16. Future Considerations
      • Further training: CILLIDI (Canadian Languages and Literacy Development Institute, University of Alberta)
      • Materials development (Gift of Language, La Ronge, Saskatchewan)
      • Development of assessment tools in indigenous languages
      • Government of Canada
      • Indigenous languages must be given official status by being declared the founding languages of Canada
      • Creation of a national Center for Indigenous languages
      • Life Span Approach to Language Revitalization and maintanance
    • 17. Works cited
      • Onowa McIvor. Strategies for Indigenous Language Revitalization and Maintenance. 2009-04-03. Encyclopaedia of Language and Literarily Development. 2011-10-02. < >
      • McIvor, Onowa.1998. Building the nests: Indigenous language revitalization in Canada through early childhood immersion programs . University of Victoria.
      • Pease-Pretty On Top, Janine. Native American Language Immersion: Innovative Native Education For Children & Families. 2011-10-02.