New grads hold hope for language revitalization

Continuing Studies

- Tara Sharpe

TłįchÇ« is one of the Dene languages of the Northwest Territories, and dììle ts'įįwÇ«Ç« is a phrase expressing "hope." Nine students in a group of NWT learners graduating with UVic Certificates in Aboriginal Language Revitalization (CALR) can be hopeful about the future of their languages now, and in turn their communities can be optimistic about renewed vitality of the languages in homes and as spoken symbols.

On June 15, three students-Tammy Steinwand-Deschambeault (Tłįchǫ), Vance Sanderson (NWT M&e#180;tis) and Margaret Thompson (Teetł'it Gwich'in)-journeyed south to accept their certificates alongside fellow CALR graduate Victoria Wells (Ehattesaht) from Vancouver Island.

Over the past two years, students representing seven of the nine official Aboriginal languages in the NWT came together to learn new approaches and practical strategies to strengthen language revitalization as part of an innovative partnership between UVic's Department of Linguistics, Division of Continuing Studies, En'owkin Centre (the Okanagan Nation's arts, cultural and educational institution) and the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Launched in 2005, the CALR program (among others offered at the university to develop and implement language revitalization activities across BC and beyond) has provided week-long intensive courses in Penticton and at UVic, and in various community settings through partnership arrangements like the one in the North.

Though the NWT graduates are not the first CALR recipients-most recently, Fall 2011 Convocation included a group of 36 Kwakwaka'wakw and WSÁNEĆ graduates from the north and south of Vancouver Island-this spring's group marks a few firsts. The nine NWT students are the first graduates in their group; Wells is the first Nuu-chah-nulth graduate of the program; and Sanderson is the only Cree representative and the only male in the NWT group.

Steinwand-Deschambeault began the program to complement and support her work with her local school authority. This work brings elders, youth and children together using traditional and new technologies, from fishnets and caribou hide weaving to iPads and Smartboards. As language coordinator for the Tłįchǫ Community Services Agency, she played a key role in the development of the new Yati Dictionary App (featured in adjacent sidebar). Steinwand-Deschambeault's educational journey at UVic is not over. In July, she begins UVic's new Graduate Certificate and Master's program in Indigenous Language Revitalization.

Wells joins Steinwand-Deschambeault and 27 others in further study this summer. Wells has worked tirelessly for years within her own community to revitalize her language and to build her own understanding of it. Many initiatives have flourished and been further developed, in large part due to her perseverance and leadership. She and her aunt Fidelia Haiyupis, also a student in the CALR program, were interviewed recently for Ha-Shilth-Sa magazine ( about language material they display on the FirstVoices ( app platform.

Sanderson was also in the media spotlight in the recent past. The Northern News Service indicated his "day job" was promoting the Cree language. Now he has carried ideas learned in the CALR program to his work as the NWT Cree language coordinator. His most recent projects include a recipe book with "rare, top-secret recipes" and three books of Cree legends illustrated by young local artists. According to the northern news article (, Sanderson is also an avid skateboarder and snowboarder.

Thompson has travelled far for her education, from the NWT to Yukon and Alaska before becoming a UVic graduate. She works at the Language Centre of the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute, developing resource materials alongside a regional team of language and culture educators, researchers, and activists. Her trip to Victoria inspired several relatives to come to witness the fulfillment of her program and to recognize the dedication she has in all things related to Gwich'in language.


In this story

Keywords: Aboriginal Language Revitalization, Indigenous languages, Indigenous

People: Tammy Steinwand-Deschambeault, Vance Sanderson, Margaret Thompson

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