Hold on, good things ahead..

Issue of language revitalization should not be reduced to a question of money

The following opinion-editorial by FNEF Executive Director Scott Jeary was printed in the Waterloo Region Record

 

Issue of language revitalization should not be reduced to a question of money

Language revitalization work is not the simple expiation of white guilt, Scott Jeary writes.

OPINION Mar 03, 2019 by Scott Jeary – Waterloo Region Record

In Peter Shawn Taylor’s column on Indigenous languages (Speaking out about language death — Feb. 28), he concludes that money should be spent efficiently in language revitalization work, which we feel most Canadians would agree with. However, writing on behalf of the First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF), I would say those opinions seem surrounded by the overall feeling or tone that language revitalization is a waste of time and that there is no justification for engaging in the process, which is why we decided to write.

When Taylor says that some of Canada’s Indigenous languages can’t be saved, and they will die, it may well be the case. But referring to this as a “natural death” is an incorrect and misleading description. FNEF feels confident that anyone who does some quick reading on the topic would agree. The quote Taylor provides from Don Drummond as to Canadian obligation says the decline in language usage was “provoked” by settlers (or the government of the time) seems to be profoundly understated — kind of like saying the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima “provoked” cancer in the local population. On the West coast for example, in the mid-1800s, the deliberate introduction of small pox into Indigenous communities to decimate the population and reduce resistance paved the way for a 92 per cent reduction in treaty settlement lands (the argument being those lands aren’t occupied) and doling out the property to the settlers, miners and loggers of the day; that should not be described simply as a “provocation” leading to the loss of language. Most people are completely unaware of the “entire” history of the communities they live in. This was never taught; but at least some of that history is coming to light finally.

As to the growing expectation that Canadian taxpayers have an obligation to return to common usage every existing Indigenous language in the country, FNEF feels a need to add that Canadian taxpayers are not going to return to common usage any Indigenous language at all. This work is being done by passionate and dedicated people in their own communities who are responding to their own and their community members’ desire to learn their unique language, and through that their culture and who they are as people. That is something many Indigenous children today are not afforded, due in part, to residential school policies imposed on their parents. There is not enough space here to get into why that is so vitally important in so many ways. Language revitalization work should not be reduced to or described as only taxpayers writing a never-ending cheque.

Taylor writes that “if it is inevitable that Canada spends huge sums on Indigenous languages simply to expiate white guilt let us at least spend it on those with a fighting chance of survival.” FNEF feels that the desire to participate in language revitalization work is not the simple expiation of white guilt. And saying so is a very shallow statement that offends the notion that a person, community, or government can reach a level of noble thought that stimulates a desire to take action, to rectify a wrong from a moral perspective just because it is the right thing to do. We don’t feel everything is about guilt and atonement. We don’t feel it’s possible to completely atone for our colonial history, but we could take a few lessons from Germany’s actions and attitude over the past century as a way to start.

There is not enough money to do everything; there never is enough money. We should not, however, reduce the entire issue of reconciliation and language revitalization to money and because there is not enough to do “everything” that we therefore should do nothing.

Scott Jeary is the executive director of the First Nations Education Foundation.

 

First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF) posts Online Video Documenting Language Revitalization Pole Naming Ceremony

February 13, 2019, Vancouver, B.C. – The First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF) has released a short online video – the first in a series of videos that will document the carving of a 70-foot Language Revitalization Pole. The pole was commissioned to celebrate the United Nations’ 2019 Year of Indigenous Languages and is to be carved by renowned Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul – part of the Hesquiaht Tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

The 4-minute online video posted by FNEF – which can be accessed here – documents the recent Pole Naming Ceremony that took place on January 23rd in the territory of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. The project team, led by carver Tim Paul, selected an 800-year old red cedar tree that fell naturally during a windstorm sometime during the past 50 to 70 years. An additional video clip is also available on the FNEF videos page showing the end cut being bucked off the massive log.

In the video, carver Tim Paul talks about the significance of the tree that was selected and what the tree represents in the context of Truth and Reconciliation: “It’s holding something of importance; the language, the key to who we are and how we are able to be the ones that survived to bring things forward. To share and be in amongst our neighbours. To give us goodwill, to give us something like this.”

Carver Tim Paul has named the pole čiiʔiłumqa – his grandmother’s name – which means “holding something of importance” in the Nuu-chah-nulth language (pronounced chee/i/thloom/kuh).

The pole carving process is being documented by filmmaker Dale Devost. The footage will later be used as content for language lessons on the FNEF platform which was developed in partnership with Six Factor, western Canada’s Leading Google Cloud Partner. The FNEF Language Revitalization Pole project has received the patronage of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and the film footage will also be distributed to the 11,000 UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet) in over 180 countries.

Although the term “totem pole” is typically used in English to describe carved poles such as the Language Revitalization Pole, the correct term in the Nuu-chah-nulth language is č̓iin̓uł (pronounced chee/noolth) which literally means “cutting along.”

The Pole Naming Ceremony was led by Edward Johnson, the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. Once the Language Revitalization Pole is completed it will be gifted to the University of Victoria where it will stand, with the blessing and support of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, in recognition of the University’s leadership in Language Revitalization and Indigenous Studies.

Tim Paul and Forestry experts from Western Forest Products recently confirmed the physical integrity of the 800-year old red cedar tree log and arrangements are currently being made to transport the log from its current forest location to the carving location in Port Alberni. NOTE: FNEF will be advising interested media in advance of the log’s arrival at the carving location. The date for transporting the log has yet to be determined.

For additional background information on the FNEF Language Revitalization Pole project, please see the links below to online resources.

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Media Contact:
Scott Jeary
c. 604-340-5170
e. [email protected]


Online resources
:

About FNEF

FNEF collaborates with First Nations governments to develop language revitalization programs for at-risk Indigenous dialects using contemporary educational practices and innovative, interactive technology. With a language revitalization pilot project currently underway in partnership with the Yuułuʔiłʔath First Nation, FNEF seeks to raise awareness about the state of Aboriginal languages in North America.


About Master Carver Tim Paul

Tim Paul was born into the house ʔaʔiiḥtaqumłʔatḥ, part of the Hesquiaht Tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. In his early days he was taught and nurtured by family elders in accordance with ancient principles of family cultural teachings, but like all Aboriginal children of his generation was removed from his family home and taken to an Indian Residential School where he was forbidden to speak his language, practice his culture, and worse. He relied heavily on his cultural education in his healing and began carving in 1975. He went on to produce prints, silkscreen designs, masks, sculptures and ceremonial paraphernalia as well as poles.

As one of Canada’s preeminent artists, his work can be seen all over the world, including at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, in Exeter, England, on the grounds of Stanley Park in Vancouver, at the Vancouver International Airport, and most notably in Auckland, New Zealand where his Nuu-chah-nulth-style pole was given by the People of British Columbia to the city of Auckland in celebration of the 1990 Commonwealth Games. In addition to carving, Tim Paul has developed cultural curriculum for the Port Alberni School Board and held positions at the Royal BC Museum. He has also been the subject of several documentary films about his life and works and was awarded the BC Creative Achievement Award for First Nations Art in 2010.


About FNEF CEO Les Doiron

Les Doiron is a citizen and the elected President of the Yuułuʔiłʔath Government (the Ucluelet First Nation). He represents the Yuułuʔiłʔath to local, provincial and federal governments, other First Nations and indigenous organizations – nationally and internationally. A community minded, goal-oriented professional, Les is passionate about giving back to his community and has shared much of his life with many individuals, on a professional and volunteer basis, alike. In conjunction with FNEF volunteer Board President Rhonda Knockwood, he was instrumental in the formation of FNEF and the development of FNEF’s language revitalization projects and strategies; in particular, helping to establish the Nuu-chah-nulth (Barkley dialect) pilot project within the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government.


About Filmmaker Dale Devost

Dale Devost has been behind a camera for over 30 years. His programs have been broadcast on CBC, APTN, and Knowledge Network and he has produced numerous documentaries including two projects that feature master carver Tim Paul: Dr. George Clutesi Curriculum Project and New Moon a Gift for the Spirit. Devost has been running his own production company out of his home on Hornby Island since 1985, with a focus on telling stories of cross-cultural understanding, arts, and the environment.


About the University of Victoria

UVic is one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities, offering life-changing, hands-on learning experiences to more than 21,000 students on the edge of the spectacular BC coast. UVic faculty, staff, and students make a critical difference on issues that matter to people, places and the planet. From language revitalization to Indigenous law, UVic researchers are working with Indigenous communities and organizations in Canada and around the world to understand, preserve and celebrate Indigenous traditions and cultures. Find out more at uvic.ca and Territory acknowledgement


About the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and FNEF

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO serves as a bridge between Canadians and the vital work of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. By promoting UNESCO values, priorities and programs in Canada and by bringing the voices of Canadian experts to the international stage, the Commission contributes to a peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future that leaves no one behind.

Link to letter of patronage from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO


About Six Factor

Six Factor is western Canada’s Leading Google Cloud Partner. The company’s Six Factor SMART (6FS) framework is the heart of their services and allows strong engagement with clients where clients own the solutions created together. Six Factor seeks to equip decision-makers with skills that help them to adopt best-in class behaviors and practices, overcome roadblocks to short and long-term success, and maximize returns on investments in technology. Six Factor’s mission is simple: craft successful value-based solutions that are easily digested in small chunks that add up incrementally to big wins. Six Factor shares FNEF’s passion for saving at-risk Indigenous languages and FNEF’s belief that an enormous technology boost is urgently needed to accomplish the task and allow future generations to successfully learn and revitalize these languages.

First Nations Education Foundation announces the commissioning of a Language Revitalization Pole to be carved in recognition of the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

January 28, 2019, Vancouver, B.C. – In recognition of the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, which officially launched earlier today in Paris, the First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF) has announced the commissioning of a Language Revitalization Pole to draw attention to the importance of Indigenous language and culture in Canada. The Language Revitalization Pole will be carved by renowned Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul – part of the Hesquiaht Tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations – and has received the patronage of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

When it is completed, the Language Revitalization Pole will be gifted to the University of Victoria where it will stand, with the blessing and support of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, in recognition of the University’s leadership in Language Revitalization and Indigenous Studies.

The stories and themes carver Tim Paul has selected to be featured on the pole honour ten relatives of the Nuu-chah-nulth people: sky, sun, moon, mountains, rivers, lakes, land, sea, wind, and stars. There is also an eleventh relative that will be depicted on the pole: earthquake, which is sent to teach humility and remind human beings of the all-encompassing power of the Creator.

“Oral history, songs, dances, ceremony, and art were – and continue to be – the vehicle for transmitting history, knowledge, and sovereign rights from generation to generation,” said Tim Paul. “Through storytelling we are also reminded of our family ties to neighbouring tribes and Nations. When we use our language, it is not just another way of saying something; the principles of our culture are embedded in the language and many words simply cannot be translated. It is only by understanding our language that we can unlock the most important values, principles, and concepts of who we are.”

Les Doiron, the volunteer chief executive officer of FNEF and elected President of the Yuułuʔiłʔath Government (the Ucluelet First Nation), says carving the Language Revitalization Pole will not only bring attention to the threats facing Indigenous languages, but will also create content for the innovative language revitalization pilot project currently underway in the Yuułuʔiłʔath community where the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-chah-nulth language is at imminent risk of becoming extinct: At present there are fewer than seven Elder fluent speakers from the Ucluelet First Nation who still speak this dialect.

“This pole will not only raise awareness of the threats facing Indigenous languages in Canada and around the world, it will also draw attention to the urgent need to advance reconciliation and healing by supporting Indigenous peoples and communities in their efforts to preserve and promote their languages and cultures through innovative solutions,” said Doiron.

Two months ago, in early December of last year, and with the blessing of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Master Carver Tim Paul, along with Port Alberni Carver George Nookimus, FNEF Executive Director Scott Jeary, and several others toured the Huu-ay-aht Treaty Settlement Lands and Western Forest Products TFL 44 areas to evaluate the condition of potential carving logs for the Language Revitalization Pole. They were able to locate an ancient cedar tree – estimated to be approximately 800 years old – that fell naturally during a windstorm blowdown event around 50 to 70 years ago on what is now Huu-ay-aht Treaty Settlement Lands. Western Forest Products will assist with the transport of the log to the carving site in Port Alberni now that a thorough inspection by Tim Paul has confirmed the log’s integrity.

As carving begins, documentary cameras led by filmmaker Dale Devost will follow the entire process – with the footage to be used later in education tool kits for distribution to the 11,000 UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet) in over 180 countries and as content for language lessons on the FNEF platform.

Fundraising efforts are currently underway to support the pole project and the Ucluelet First Nation Nuu-chah-nulth, Barkley dialect, language revitalization pilot project. The estimated cost of the Indigenous Language Revitalization Pole and pilot project is pegged at $1 million, with a project budget breakdown of $150,000 for carving (students, guest carvers, tools, location costs), $100,000 for logistics (tree, transportation, staging, raising, etc.), $650,000 to complete the Nuu-chah-nulth Language Preservation Pilot Project and expand it to include the other 13 Nuu-chah-nulth nations, communities, and dialects, and $100,000 for a documentary, ceremony, and promotion.

In addition to the patronage of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the project has received support from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Western Forest Products, the University of Victoria, the Royal BC Museum, BC Chamber of Commerce, Museum of Vancouver, RBC, Teck, Intefor, AME, TimberWest, and several other organizations and individuals and First Nations.

In addition to the Ucluelet First Nation, FNEF is in discussion with the Haisla Nation in Kitimat and other First Nations in Canada who have asked how FNEF can help with their language revitalization efforts.

As background: There are 34 Indigenous languages represented in the province of British Columbia which make up over two thirds of the Indigenous languages spoken in Canada.

Worldwide, there are 7,000 languages representing 5,000 different cultures. The overwhelming majority of these languages are spoken by 370 million Indigenous people in over 90 countries. A great majority of these Indigenous languages are disappearing, and at an alarming rate.

In Canada, there are approximately 60 Indigenous languages, each with unique dialects, histories, and cultural traditions. Alarmingly, almost three-quarters of these languages are at risk of being lost within this generation. If these languages become extinct, Indigenous nations risk losing their cultural identities forever.

Additional background information about FNEF, Master Carver Tim Paul, FNEF CEO Les Doiron, and Filmmaker Dale Devost is appended at that end of this media release.

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Online resources:

Media Contact:
Scott Jeary
c. 604-340-5170
e. [email protected]


ABOUT FNEF

FNEF collaborates with First Nations governments to develop language revitalization programs for at-risk Indigenous dialects using contemporary educational practices and innovative, interactive technology. With a language revitalization pilot project currently underway in partnership with the Yuułuʔiłʔath First Nation, FNEF seeks to raise awareness about the state of Aboriginal languages in North America.


About Master Carver Tim Paul

Tim Paul was born into the house ʔaʔiiḥtaqumłʔatḥ, part of the Hesquiaht Tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. In his early days he was taught and nurtured by family elders in accordance with ancient principles of family cultural teachings, but like all Aboriginal children of his generation was removed from his family home and taken to an Indian Residential School where he was forbidden to speak his language, practice his culture, and worse. He relied heavily on his cultural education in his healing and began carving in 1975. He went on to produce prints, silkscreen designs, masks, sculptures and ceremonial paraphernalia as well as poles.

As one of Canada’s preeminent artists, his work can be seen all over the world, including at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, in Exeter, England, on the grounds of Stanley Park in Vancouver, at the Vancouver International Airport, and most notably in Auckland, New Zealand where his Nuu-chah-nulth-style pole was given by the People of British Columbia to the city of Auckland in celebration of the 1990 Commonwealth Games. In addition to carving, Tim Paul has developed cultural curriculum for the Port Alberni School Board and held positions at the Royal BC Museum. He has also been the subject of several documentary films about his life and works and was awarded the BC Creative Achievement Award for First Nations Art in 2010.


About FNEF CEO Les Doiron

Les Doiron is a citizen and the elected President of the Yuułuʔiłʔath Government (the Ucluelet First Nation). He represents the Yuułuʔiłʔath to local, provincial and federal governments, other First Nations and indigenous organizations – nationally and internationally. A community minded, goal-oriented professional, Les is passionate about giving back to his community and has shared much of his life with many individuals, on a professional and volunteer basis, alike. In conjunction with FNEF volunteer Board President Rhonda Knockwood, he was instrumental in the formation of FNEF and the development of FNEF’s language revitalization projects and strategies; in particular, helping to establish the Nuu-chah-nulth (Barkley dialect) pilot project within the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government.


About Filmmaker Dale Devost

Dale Devost has been behind a camera for over 30 years. His programs have been broadcast on CBC, APTN, and Knowledge Network and he has produced numerous documentaries including two projects that feature master carver Tim Paul: Dr. George Clutesi Curriculum Project and New Moon a Gift for the Spirit. Devost has been running his own production company out of his home on Hornby Island since 1985, with a focus on telling stories of cross-cultural understanding, arts, and the environment.


About the University of Victoria

UVic is one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities, offering life-changing, hands-on learning experiences to more than 21,000 students on the edge of the spectacular BC coast. UVic faculty, staff, and students make a critical difference on issues that matter to people, places and the planet. From language revitalization to Indigenous law, UVic researchers are working with Indigenous communities and organizations in Canada and around the world to understand, preserve and celebrate Indigenous traditions and cultures. Find out more at uvic.ca and Territory acknowledgement


About the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and FNEF

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO serves as a bridge between Canadians and the vital work of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. By promoting UNESCO values, priorities and programs in Canada and by bringing the voices of Canadian experts to the international stage, the Commission contributes to a peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future that leaves no one behind.

Link to letter of patronage from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO

FNEF and Six Factor announce new Indigenous language app: secure, instantly available, and customizable

We have some great news to report about the work we’ve been doing over the past several months with Six Factor, our FNEF technology partner. Six Factor is western Canada’s Leading Google Cloud Partner, and together we are ready to field test the first generation of our FNEF Indigenous language app for smartphone, tablet, and desktop learning.

There are some key differences between our FNEF language app – which was built from the ground up to be secure and instantly available on a global level – and other language apps currently being used to curate and revitalize at-risk First Nations languages. For example, it has a “record and compare” feature that provides learners with a visual reference whereby the sound wave produced by their pronunciation of a word or words can be directly compared to the sound wave produced by a fluent speaker for enhanced pronunciation accuracy.

Likewise, content curation for our app is built around high quality video recording in tandem with audio recording – including individual words and alphabet pronunciations. Video offers a substantial improvement over merely recording high quality audio and adds a significant cultural benefit for future generations who will actually be able to see – as well as hear – Elders speaking the language they are learning (studies have shown that people learn faster, more effectively, and are more engaged when video is incorporated into learning).

In tech circles, our FNEF app is already turning heads with what it can do and how quickly it can do it (see the current technical specifications and cloud technology / security software used by our FNEF language app below at the bottom or skip directly to it here).

The technological sophistication of our FNEF app is based on our adoption of the significant, exponential advances in Google’s machine learning and “Deep Learning” technologies in recent years. Our goal is to fully harness this advanced learning power and bring it to bear on the challenge of revitalizing at-risk First Nation languages. Six Factor is continuing to work on ways to accomplish this for us while we field test this first generation of our app, which supplements the vitally important language nest, immersion, and mentoring work already underway in many First Nations communities.

Needless to say, security and instant global availability were high on our list of requirements for the FNEF app. Six Factor was able to achieve this for us by embracing Google’s Cloud Compute Engine technologies which allow for rapid scaling to meet instant demand without sacrificing performance or requiring the reworking of an app. The software architecture used to build our FNEF Language app is also framework based which means it is easily expandable to support multiple language sets.

So: What does this mean in practical terms? It means that the user interface for our desktop and mobile language app versions is easily customizable and personalized to the specific requirements of any First Nations language community; and new features such as learning environments based on virtual reality can be added in the future as various technologies advance.

There is an important bit of background to the language technology Six Factor is bringing to our app and to the goal of saving and revitalizing at-risk First Nations languages. The current state of Deep Learning (machine learning) technology makes it possible to “ingest” a thriving living language in just 30 days. Six Factor is looking to embed this same advanced machine learning technology into our FNEF app such that, with a sufficiently robust Indigenous language corpus, it will soon be possible for at-risk Indigenous languages to be machine-learned using our app simply by recording and absorbing the normal, everyday speech of fluent Elders. The implications for rapidly curating an at-risk First Nations language, and creating the conditions for a successful revitalization of that language, are profound.

In terms of the user-friendliness of our FNEF language app: Our app can access the microphone, camera, and photo library of a smartphone to record speech in HD. This allows a user to practice and participate in a game-like learning environment built into the app’s workflow experience. To protect end-user privacy, the practice sessions of each individual learner are stored in a randomly-named file folder structure. And before any public submissions – or uploaded recordings – are accepted into the application’s language dataset and made available to end users, they are stored in an encrypted staging folder for review and validation by a trainer or admin person. The use of each First Nation’s data is protected by a highly secure privacy policy whereby each user is granted role-based access and function permissions; e.g. user, trainer, Admin at the First Nation Government level.

For the tech folks – and without going too deeply into the technology – our FNEF language app is a cloud application written in PHP using the latest version of the Laravel framework. It serves HTML, Javascript and CSS to desktop users while delivering results to mobile users over RESTful API using a bearer or authorization token within the request. The mobile application of our FNEF app was developed in Angular, a powerful language that drives many of Google’s own services.

Application data is backed up nightly and stored in a secure Drive bucket for no less than thirty (30) days. Users can log in with a username and password, or by using Single sign on via their Google, Twitter, or Facebook accounts over oAuth.

All login and data upload requests require authorization, and CSRF tokens are used to protect against cross-server forgery attacks and cross-site scripting attacks. Using a rigid Content Security Policy, the HTML webpage serving the app’s front-end denies the loading of scripts from third party domains, and all libraries are stored locally. In other words, the data in our FNEF language app is heavily protected and very safe and secure.

Our FNEF language app and its environment are also penetration tested by a qualified cybersecurity firm on a regular schedule. The application inspects uploaded images/audio and validates content. Uploads are renamed using a randomized hash and stored in an isolated environment without the ability to execute code or access data on the server. The server and software are hardened to store the application in isolation, prohibiting access or visibility to non-essential memory or other sessions. The complete environment is resource/performance/process monitored and access/firewall logs are inspected by a cyber security specialist for suspicious activity with real time data streamed to a secure bucket.

As noted above, it is the significant advances that have been occurring almost monthly in Deep Learning and machine learning technologies in recent years that have made it possible to accomplish what we have accomplished with the first generation of our FNEF language app; and the rate at which these technologies are advancing is increasing exponentially every day. If we use the analogy of dog-years for the purpose of comparison (because everyone knows that seven dog-years equal one human-year), one human-year is currently the tech equivalent of roughly fifteen “application-years.” That’s how fast machine learning technology is changing and advancing.

There is no question that an urgent response is required to document and curate the language and knowledge held by fluent Elder speakers of Indigenous languages as rapidly as possible while they are still with us. Likewise, it’s no secret that this population grows smaller every day. Tapping into the exponential power of technology innovation is the key that will unlock our collective ability to meet this great challenge.

We want to thank Six Factor for partnering with us on this vitally important project and allowing us to achieve the key differences we were looking for with respect to the language apps currently being used to rescue at-risk First Nations languages. Six Factor shares our passion for saving these languages as well as our belief that an enormous technology boost is urgently needed – and right now – to preserve at-risk First Nations languages in a way that will allow future generations to successfully learn and revitalize these languages (and for all to learn from them and the unique knowledge, history, and wisdom they carry).

We are very proud of the language app we’ve created with Six Factor as our technology partner, but we’re not stopping there. Our ambition is to support First Nations communities and language champions in their language revitalization efforts by delivering the best in class technology innovation for language curation and revitalization on an ongoing basis.

Thank you again to Andy Parkins and everyone at Six Factor for joining us on this important journey. We are eternally grateful to all of you for what you have accomplished for us and for getting us closer to the goal of saving and revitalizing all at-risk First Nations languages.

FNEF

Current Technical Specifications and Cloud Technology / Security Software used by our FNEF language app:

  • Hardware: Scalable Google Compute Engine instances with Load Balancing
  • Operating System: Cloudlinux 7 with AtomicSecure Linux kernel/operating system hardening
  • Webserver Applications: Apache2 and PHP 7.2, with AtomicSecure Linux mod_security2 WAF rules enabled
  • Networking: Cloudflare (DDoS protection/performance), server inaccessible to internet directly, management processes (SSH/SFTP) available over the internet only via whitelisted IP and VPN, Google’s network firewall and a server side stateful inspection firewall
  • Malware Detection: Linux Malware Detect, Config Server’s CXS real-time malware scanner with mod_security2 hooks, rkhunter, chkrootkit and administrative inspection of processes

Six Factor is constantly evolving the Conceptual Technological Platform used to support our FNEF language application and they are fully embracing Google’s deep learning technologies

  • Six Factor is working to integrate Google’s TensorFlow NLP to provide real time translation to help students master the language through everyday examples
  • Six Factor is prototyping with ImmerseMe Virtual Reality to provide real engagement (see: https://immerseme.co/#explore and https://www.oculus.com/experiences/gear-vr/1272636489423125/ and https://www.oculus.com/experiences/gear-vr/1129567930394285/)
  • Six Factor is adding in the Google Speech API with NLP to create interactive learning sessions that learn the style of the student not just the living language structure to help them find the best and easiest way to blend their personal learning style with the teaching style of the app
  • Six Factor is also having a lot of fun building a Group Augmented Reality/VR/gamified experience to allow students or study groups to see the same translations in the environment around them and hear the words/letters spoken (broken into specific sounds & the sentence or word as a whole) to learn together – Identify objects or surfaces dynamically and translate them (see: https://experiments.withgoogle.com/ai/thing-translator and https://experiments.withgoogle.com/ai/giorgio-cam)
  • Six Factor is also big into making learning fun by bringing video game experiences into the app to deliver an engaging and interactive exploration of mythos, legends, and oral history (see: http://neveralonegame.com/). Six Factor’s goal is allow the student to explore by learning as a game in the First Nation language with English translations that allows the child and/or adult to learn the culture through an enjoyable game experience

 

FNEF

It’s 2018: Let’s not let the gift of Indigenous languages slip through our hands

As the new year of 2018 begins, it’s worth noting from the start that we continue to face a stark, ongoing reality: No Indigenous language in Canada is considered safe. This is the reality that drives our work and our FNEF language revitalization approach; namely, to develop language revitalization programs for at-risk Indigenous languages and dialects using contemporary educational practices and innovative, interactive technology.

Our FNEF approach is a 21st century approach; one that seeks to make contemporary learning strategies feasible for small communities using an open-ended digital platform and a comprehensive archive tool for systematic language curation. It’s an approach that offers real, achievable hope for Indigenous language revitalization – here in Canada and around the world.

A prime example of an endangered Indigenous language that looms large for us in 2018 at FNEF is the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth language. At last count, there were only seven Elder speakers of this dialect remaining in Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ. This Indigenous language will become extinct without immediate action to preserve it.

It’s clear to us that if this language – or any other Indigenous language – were allowed to die, the intangible cultural concepts embedded within it would also be lost, as would the opportunity to ever again benefit from the deeper understanding of our place in relation to the world around us; a unique understanding embedded in every one of the world’s languages.

“Language is everything that we are. If you don’t know your language, then it is difficult to understand in a profound way who you are.” – Phil Fontaine, FNEF National Spokesperson

As Métis author Chelsea Vowel noted in an article late last year, three-quarters of the Indigenous languages in Canada are currently considered endangered. Even more disturbing is the fact that twenty-four of the Indigenous languages listed in Canada’s 2016 Census have fewer than 200 speakers – a number Vowel believes is inflated (see our blog post from last November for more on Chelsea Vowel’s article).

Globally, the United Nations estimates there are 7,000 languages in the world representing 5,000 different cultures. The overwhelming majority of these 7,000 languages are spoken by the world’s estimated 370 million Indigenous people, living across 90 countries. And the majority of these languages are endangered.

The magnitude and urgency of the efforts needed to save and revitalize Indigenous languages – locally, nationally, and globally – is truly staggering. However, these efforts are a crucial step toward reconciliation with the world’s Indigenous peoples.

Fortunately, the 21st century has provided us with the technology and the tools to successfully save and then revitalize our planet’s rich legacy of languages; languages that thousands of years of human culture have gifted to us in the present day.

As we embark upon a new year, let’s not let the gift of Indigenous languages slip through our hands. Let’s make this new year a year of action.

 

FNEF    

Canada’s Residential School Story Launches on Google Earth Voyager

Google Earth recently made a wonderful new learning tool available to the public; one that helps tell the story of Canada’s residential schools and the devastating impacts the schools had on Indigenous people.

The new tool is part of Google Earth’s Voyager series and it takes full advantage of the powerful storytelling functionality Voyager brings to Google Earth’s popular mapping service. The result is a much needed primer on residential schools for elementary and secondary school students; told through a unique geographic lens.

The project was spearheaded by Canadian Geographic Education (Can Geo Education). They are the first Canadian organization to produce content for Google Earth Voyager. They join a growing number of prestigious Google partners such as NASA and the BBC.

Can Geo Education worked closely with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) of the University of Manitoba to create this new educational tool, one that helps students learn about the dark chapter of residential schools in Canadian history.

Google Earth Voyager shows students where each residential school is located on a map of Canada and explains why the schools were built, what attending a residential school was like for Indigenous children, the effects of the system on students, and how residential school survivors are working to move forward.

There are four modules for students and the general public to explore:

As Ellen Curtis, Director of Can Geo Education, states, the residential school system is a harrowing part of Canadian history, but a part of our history that is required learning on the journey toward reconciliation. We couldn’t agree more and we encourage everyone to explore this new resource.

Many thanks to Google and Can Geo Education for developing this 21st century learning tool, one that adds to the reconciliation journey by telling the story of Canada’s residential schools in a unique new way.

 

FNEF

 

 

Why Indigenous languages should be taught alongside French and English

“Without immediate, robust, and heartfelt intervention, language decline will be irreversible.”

– Chelsea Vowel / âpihtawikosisân –

If you haven’t read Métis author Chelsea Vowel’s recent article, which argues for the teaching of Indigenous languages alongside French and English (the article was posted on the Maclean’s website last week), we highly recommend it. Vowel, who is also known as âpihtawikosisân, is someone who has fought hard to access and reclaim her Cree language, and she articulates the case for Indigenous language preservation and revitalization compellingly and with great passion.

In the article, Vowel systematically lays out why each province and territory in Canada should pass an Official Languages Act: one that recognizes the Indigenous languages that originate in each of those provinces and territories.

Along with this official recognition, she argues, must come funding that ensures language transmission can continue in schools, workplaces, and government.

The impetus for Vowel’s article, not surprisingly, is the 2016 census data released at the end of October. On the surface, the 2016 census data seems to suggest that the health of Indigenous languages has improved over the past 10 years, with the number of people speaking one of 70 Indigenous languages in Canada having grown by 3.1 percent since 2006. Some news headlines even went so far as to state that Indigenous languages are “surging” or “enduring.”

But as Vowel points out, the stark reality here is that no Indigenous language in Canada is considered safe, and three-quarters are endangered. In fact, twenty-four of the Indigenous languages listed in the 2016 census each have fewer than 200 speakers – a number of speakers Vowel believes is inflated, which underscores the seriousness of the language extinction issue we face. (more…)

Prime Minister delivers apology to former students of Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized today, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, to former students of Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools. He also apologized to the families, loved ones, and communities for the painful and tragic legacy the residential schools left behind.

As the Prime Minister’s media release states: “We need to acknowledge our past – including its most dark and shameful chapters – to address the historical wrongs and ongoing intergenerational trauma that affect so many Indigenous Peoples.”

Here is a link to the media release issued by the Prime Minister’s office: Prime Minister delivers apology to former students of Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools

Here is the Prime Minister’s key quote from the media release:

“For every Innu, Inuit, and NunatuKavut child in Newfoundland and Labrador who suffered discrimination, mistreatment, abuse, and neglect in residential schools – we are sorry. While this long overdue apology will not undo the harm done, we offer it as a sign that we as a government and as a country accept responsibility for our failings. It is our shared hope that we can learn from this past and continue to advance our journey of reconciliation and healing. We have the power to be better and to do better.”

—The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

FNEF

Concerns expressed over drop in use of Aboriginal languages in N.W.T.

An online CBC news item caught our eye yesterday morning. The CBC article noted that the use of Aboriginal languages is on the decline in the Northwest Territories, bucking an optimistic national trend that some feel is apparent.

The article indicates that there was a 15 per cent decline in the number of people in the North West Territories “who primarily speak an Aboriginal language at home, as well as the number of people who consider one of these languages their mother tongue.” This is definitely concerning.

The information comes from a comparison of data contained in the 2011 and 2016 national censuses. As the CBC article states:

Compared to 2011, the number of people who speak Gwich’in as a primary language at home dropped 43 per cent, from 35 speakers to 20. The other languages in the N.W.T. that saw the greatest decline in primary language usage at home were Tlicho at 15 per cent, North and South Slavey at 10 per cent, and the Inuit languages of Inuinnaqtun, Inuvialuktun and Inuktitut, which saw a 52 per cent decline in use as a primary language at home.

Commenting on the situation, retired language specialist Andy Norwegian (quoted in the CBC article) states that it is important for these Indigenous languages to be passed down from generation to generation.

He attributes the decline to the lack of Elders who can teach these languages and points to the shortage of fluent speakers as a significant challenge, one that must be overcome if we are to revitalize Indigenous languages:

“We all know that for a language to be a thriving language, there has to be an intergenerational transmission of language, starting with the very young, and right to the old…. I think we’ve lost a lot of those elders and fluent speakers and they aren’t being replaced with fluent speakers at the bottom level.”

However, Norwegian also points to a much deeper issue that Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action seek to correct; namely, the fact that “many people are still apprehensive to speak Aboriginal languages because they were punished for it in residential schools.”

As Norwegian goes on to state:

“You meet anybody in a restaurant, you know, they would start off by talking in English at a normal voice level. But you get them into talking the [Aboriginal] language, you know that they will lower their voice. I attribute that to the effects of residential schools.”

Former N.W.T. languages commissioner Sarah Jerome, who is also a retired educator, is likewise quoted in the CBC article. She says “we need to be radical and we need to start speaking our languages” to these young children. We wholeheartedly agree.

Language revitalization is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s key recommendations, and it’s one that the Federal government has committed to implementing and funding; most recently, with the Budget 2017 announcement of $89.9 million over the next three years to preserve, protect, and revitalize Indigenous languages and cultures in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his December 6, 2016, Address to the Assembly of First Nations: “The Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples of Canada have begun our own new walk together. And together we’ve taken the first steps in what we all know is going to be a multi-generational journey.”

 

FNEF

Marking International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It’s also been ten years since the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples making this year’s observances a major reconciliation milestone.

Read the UN’s press release and their backgrounder marking the day: On International Day, United Nations marks 10th anniversary of Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

And please use the hashtags #WeAreIndigenous and #IndigenousDay on social media.

 

 

Did you know?
  • The world’s estimated 370 million Indigenous people, living across 90 countries, speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
  • The international community has come to recognize that special measures are required to protect the rights of Indigenous people and their distinct cultures and ways of life. 2017 is the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007.
  • UNDRIP is the most comprehensive international instrument relating to the rights of Indigenous peoples. It embodies a global consensus on the rights of Indigenous peoples and establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being.

 

FNEF