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Reconnecting to the Spirit of the Language


The community-based research we conducted looks to nêhiyaw methods of reconnecting to the spirit of language. We invited nêhiyaw fluent speakers, as well as nêhiyawêwin-speaking Elders, educators, and learners into interviews and dialogue circles, drawing largely on knowledges and lived experiences of nêhiyawak and nêhiyawêwin learners. Our community work needed to be conducted through principles which actively privilege Indigenous voices and perspectives, and active mindfulness in according respect to the Elders and Indigenous language speakers and learners. This includes fostering a space for openness, trust, and informed consent in shared discussions in the dialogue circles, as well as making room in our community and independent work for ceremony — which included being honest with everyone and ourselves, which included laughing and being humorous during interviews and dialogue circles.  


The closest academic approach best fits within IRM, or Indigenous Research Methodologies (IRM), which deviates from the well-known Community-Based Participatory Research, or CBPR approach. IRM is proposed by Shawn Wilson, an Opaskwayak nêhiyaw, who works with international communities. He acknowledges that Indigenous paradigms are outside of the frame of conventional academic framing, noting “Our ontology, epistemology, axiology, and our methodology are fundamentally different” (Wilson, 2001). That said, our research focuses on and prioritizes nêhiyawak ways of interpreting the world and of being and relationality, in order for us to collaboratively support nêhiyawêwin ways of learning. This means veering from traditional academic research methodologies, to favour nêhiyawêwin ways of being. 


Reconnecting to the land and Indigenous spiritualities.

●Indigenous languages are land-based. To reconnect with the spirit of the language means reconnecting with the land, the environment, the water, and all of the relations we hold in kinship

●Ancestral governance is guided by environmentally-oriented Indigenous knowledge systems

●Land holds the spirit of the language. Each plant, animal, rock, and spirit marker holds ancestral stories and significance. Walls surrounding a classroom often hold trauma

●Immersion programs are ideal, takes communities to build and maintain it.

●Land-based being can be connected to digital activities, particularly for language learners who are distantly connected to their ancestrally-connected Indigenous homelands

●Indigenous stewardship counters generations of forced removal from the land 

●Where industry and development replaced natural waterways and ecologies, Indigenous stewardship is seen as the solution for environments and ancestral language vitality

●Pharmaceutical developments have exploited Land-based ontologies for the last few centuries. Land is the knowledge holder, and is sustainable, unlike capitalistically-dominated institutions. 

●The land shouldn’t be bound within colonial boundaries and institutions such as universities. Funding and other supports shouldn’t be limited to the colonial boundaries places on those bands and nations, and shouldn’t be monopolized. 


Ceremony, reciprocity and a community-first approach guide all Indigenous language work

●Ceremony guides Indigenous reciprocal-relational methods. This includes relations with the land, foods, medicines, learnings, and environment.

●Our community-based research offers our research and its ownership back to the community, where those who have shared their voices are co-contributors in this research -- despite institutional affiliations.

●These reciprocal-relational methods predate the unilaterally decisive research consistently published in Western academy. The words and research are ongoing relationships, and not final once put into print.

●This involves community co-ownership and mutual benefit from the language research

●Inherently colonial narratives currently drive Indigenous language education through Eurocentric pedagogies. Instead, mutual respect for the land allows for the learnings and teachings between Indigenous Peoples and their ancestral footsteps

●Arts and and mixed sensory learning presents a dynamic and interactive reciprocal-relational medium for Indigenous language learning

●Harvesting, hunting and trapping fosters those kinship relationships and engagement with the language

●Year-round land-camps encourage those deeply rooted respects for environment which ground Indigenous epistemologies


Indigenous language communities should govern the delivery of languages, learning and protected knowledges

●History begins with Indigenous Creation stories, not colonization

●Indigenous knowledges should be protected by more than just UNDRIP. Canada passed language legislation, though Indigenous languages shouldn’t be federal jurisdiction, though Canada now needs to uphold intent of policy.

●Self-government among Indigenous nations now often involves Indigenous languages and sovereignty of education

●Indigenous languages and knowledges shouldn’t only be supported by their nations and community leaders. Partnering communities, classes, provinces and territories, as well as universities and affiliates may have opportunities to co-support collaborative language acquisition in community-led initiatives based on community need

●Indigenous Elders, knowledge holders and guest speakers guide discussions around Indigenous knowledges and languages. Academic research can aide in Indigenous language resurgence, but is better when conducted with, by and for communities under community ownership. 

●Indigenous communities own the “means of production.” Indigenous knowledge holders guide Indigenous knowledge protocols.

●Decolonizing ownership means Indigenous community members develop materials, and control “means of production.” This refers to tools for language resource creation, and ability to run and maintain language programming. Work and necessary tools can be developed by partnering universities, but community must own their own resources. 

●Repatriation / rematriation of sacred Indigenous belongings and resources connected to ancestral knowledges, lands and epistemologies.

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