UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day struck a chord with attendees of a Future of First Nations Education Conference at the First Nations University on Thursday.
It was the final day of a three-day conference about how to improve First Nations education and the topic of language dominated the conversation for many of the speakers.
“It is about affirming our obligation to make sure that tomorrow’s generations have the proper tools and to be able to learn the struggles from our paste generations,” said Simon Bird, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
UNESCO first established International Mother Language Day in 1999. It is an annual event to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity.
There are eight First Nations languages in Saskatchewan but knowledge of these languages is shrinking across the province. “They have become fairly influenced by the environment that they live in,” said Dorothy Myo, president of the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre.
“When we move into cities the (First Nation) language instruction isn’t there and when you don’t have it in school and it isn’t in the home you are going to lose it,” said Myo.
In fact many of the speakers at the conference went so far as to say the fate of First Nations languages is closely tied to the success of First Nations youths.
“For students and young people it (knowing their mother tongue) really gives them a foundation and understanding of their identity,” said Myo. “With stronger identities and healthy well-beings you are more likely to succeed in whatever you do.”