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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 6, 2004 - Issue 108


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Home Use Seen as Key to Language's Survival


FORT SMITH, N.W.T. - There's a community effort to revive the Chipewyan language in Fort Smith.

People who speak Chipewyan, a member of the Athapascan linguistic group, live in the area from the Slave River to Cold Lake in Alberta, and from Heart Lake east to Reindeer Lake in north-central Saskatchewan.

While older people are still fluent in Chipewyan, it's rare to hear the language spoken in homes in Fort Smith, a community of about 2,100 on the N.W.T.-Alberta border.

Chipewyan language co-ordinator Toni Heron would like to change that.

While she no longer speaks the language, as a child she was fluent.

"It's something we've kind of lost but now we know the importance of language and we need to bring it back into the homes and also help our children learn the language," she says.

Heron's office is wallpapered with colorful drawings by children from the Chipewyan language classes.

Four year olds are learning the days of the week, their numbers and colors at the aboriginal Head Start program.

A full-time instructor teaches Chipewyan at the elementary school, and there are evening classes for adults.

However, Heron says more needs to be done to get the language back into homes.

One proposal is to develop Chipewyan language programs on CD-ROMs that can be used by families with computers.

Heron's efforts may be aided by a meeting this week about 160 kilometers away, in Fort Resolution.

Educators, translators, and elders who speak Chipewyan are trying to standardize the language so it will be easier to both teach and learn.

Delegates are also developing an alphabet based on roman characters instead of syllabics, and teaching tools for the classroom.

Fort Smith, NWT, Canada Map

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