By Thia James

The File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) has launched new mobile applications that it plans to use to help pass down its five traditional languages to younger generations.

In June, the Tribal Council debuted its FHQTC language apps, which can be downloaded via iTunes.

The apps have been in the works for three years, and the tribal council developed them with the help of a Las Vegas-based company that specializes in indigenous languages, Thorton Media.

Tribal council chair Edmund Bellegarde called this one of the most significant developments he’s played a part in with FHQTC. “It’s always been a challenge – what’s being done about language, what’s being done about culture. Language is the gift of the Creator that is the underpinning of our culture and our ceremonies…”

The tribal council had language keepers from the Nakota, Dakota, Lakota, Salteaux and Cree language group record words and phrases.

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“Technology is really a way of teaching now, and a way of instruction,” Lori Poitras, FHQTC’s director of education said.

Social media, she said, is a way of reaching a wide variety of audiences, such as children, youth and adults.

“So, I think the application is really current,” she said.

They plan to download all five language apps onto iPads, which the FHQTC have purchased for each of its schools. All FHQTC schools will have language app-ready devices in the classrooms for the current school year.

The apps will allow teachers and students to look up words and phrases, and they can find vocabulary in categories such as food and clothing. Users can record and playback their recordings, which will allow them to see if they are pronouncing words correctly.

The language keepers are people who are fluent in one of the five traditional languages, and they recorded about 500 words. Poitras said that this allows children to hear the words spoken fluently by the language keepers.

She sees the apps as an important step in revitalizing and maintaining their languages.

“We know that our languages are at risk. We risk losing our languages, I should say,” Poitras said.

The biggest factor behind traditional languages being at risk is the legacy of residential schools, according to Bellegarde.

But, then as mainstream culture flourished around the communities, the mainstream language took hold, he said.

“Our people started to leave the reserves for urban centres, and the majority of our citizens live off the reserves in urban environments,” he added.
“We’re hoping that this leads to more activity and what we’re now focusing our sights on is establishing language immersion camps for our youth and our schools,” he said.

But the director of education is clear that the app is not meant to replace the language teacher, but to support them.

“It’s also meant to provide support for the parents at home,” she said. “So, it’s not meant to replace the fluent speaker, because we know the fluent speaker is … the most significant factor in teaching a language.”

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