Preserving and Revitalizing Indigenous Languages: National Indigenous Languages Day
March 31 is National Indigenous Languages Day. Initially called National Aboriginal Languages Day, this day was created in 1989 by the Assembly of First Nations and was first celebrated in 1993. The goal of this day is to raise awareness of Indigenous languages across Canada and to build support for their preservation.
For over a century, Indigenous languages were pushed towards extinction in Canada due to the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools. At Residential Schools, children that spoke an Indigenous language were punished. Even after Indian Residential Schools closed, the fear of speaking an Indigenous language remained. As a result, generations of Indigenous peoples never learned their language, and many Indigenous languages have died out or are in danger of becoming extinct.
In recent years initiatives have emerged to help revitalize Indigenous languages. Recent examples include outcomes for Call to Action numbers 14 and 15 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action:
- Call to Action 14 calls for the creation of the Indigenous Languages Act. In 2019, the government of Canada passed the Indigenous Languages Act.
- Call to Action 15 calls for the creation of an Indigenous Languages Commissioner. In 2021, an Indigenous Languages Commissioner was appointed and hopes to have a fully running office by Summer 2023.
During the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, the United Nations General Assembly declared the years 2022 to 2032 to be the Decade of Indigenous Languages. The goal of this decade is to help promote and protect Indigenous languages globally and improve the lives of those who speak them.
In support of preserving and celebrating Indigenous languages, we'd like to highlight our language learning resources and growing collection you can access at Toronto Public Library (TPL). We've also included resources outside of the library to further your learning.
Resources at the library
Our resources and books can be accessed for free using your library card.
Online language learning app
Mango Languages offers the following Indigenous languages: Cherokee, Hawaiian, Igbo and Potawatomi.
Books available in various Indigenous languages
The library holds many books written in or featuring Indigenous languages in our collection. Below, we've collected just a few to share in this blog post. You'll find a few more gathered for all ages in our National Indigenous Languages Day reading list. All of the books shared below and the reading list have copies available in Indigenous languages, English and/or French.
What the Chickadee Knows : poems in Anishinaabemowin and English by Margaret Noodin (Anishinaabe)
"... the poems of What the Chickadee Knows open into an Anishinaabemowin world, asking us to listen, to be present in what we notice."
When We Were Alone (Swampy Cree and English Edition) by David A. Robertson (Swampy Cree), illustrated by Julie Flett (Métis and Cree), translated by Alderick Leask (Swampy Cree)
"When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away."
Stories of Survival and Revenge from Inuit Folklore (Inuktitut Edition) by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley (Inuit and Cree) and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley (Mohawk), illustrated by Jeremy Mohler
"With comic book-inspired illustrations ... this book presents these folktales as they were meant to be experienced, with all of the heart-pounding action and awe-inspiring creatures that Inuit mythology has to offer."
Owls See Clearly at Night : A Michif Alphabet by Julie Flett (Métis and Cree)
Michif and English words combine with images from Métis culture to introduce all generations to the unique Michif language.
Anishinaabemowin Language Collection
Earlier this year, TPL launched the Anishinaabemowin Language Collection. These books in Anishinaabemowin are currently available to browse and borrow in four branches. Some books are also available online. For more details on this collection, and for more resources available in Indigenous languages, check out the Native Peoples Collection webpage.
More resources outside of the library
- Anishinaabemodaa offers resources on how to learn Anishinaabemowin. Anishinaabemodaa also offers a free browser app where you can learn Anishinaabemowin.
- First Voices share many language resources on its website, including an app that you can install on your phone to type using syllabics.
- Native-Land.ca has a cool feature where you can see a map of Indigenous languages spoken around the world, as well as treaty and territory boundaries.
- On the Path of the Elders is a free online video game where players can learn and listen to Cree. The game can be accessed on any internet browser.