Wiikwemkoong language conference seeks to strengthen linguistic health

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory

WIIKWEMKOONG – Indigenous languages are under ongoing threat across the globe due to the impact of colonialism and the overbearing influence of western culture in most popular media, but Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories has long been a bastion of Anishinaabemowin, with one of its main exports being language teachers who can be found in classrooms from Michigan to Oklahoma and beyond.

Each year the community has hosted a language conference that has attracted participants from nearly as wide a region and this year is no different, even though, like many events held over this past year, the 2021 version took place online.

The theme of this year’s two-day event, held March 19-29, was ‘Anishinaabemowin Revitalization During Pandemic and Digital Age’ and much of the discussion centred on ways the education system and other community resources can be leveraged to that end.

“Language is learned daily through commitment towards building a stronger foundation as a community,” notes the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory Anishinaabemowin Language Strategy draft sent out to participants of the conference. “First Nation languages need to be heard, spoken and welcomed into every building, home, school, on the land and in all outdoor spaces.”

The conference included a presentation/walkthrough of Nanaamwin, a new language portal developed by Joanne Riley and Andrew Manitowabi, that will be launched soon. 

The portal includes a wealth of resources for both educators and individual language speakers at every level of competency, with special attention given to youth in the form of a number of entertaining animations.

The morning of each day of the conference involved pre-recorded presentations. On the first day, in addition to an opening address by Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier, who also attended the conference, Andrew Manitowabi gave a presentation on the Anishinaabemowin Department update. The department took over responsibility for language enhancement from the Wikwemikong Heritage Organization in 2019. 

Liz Osawamick and Dr. Shirley Williams gave a presentation on ‘Survival During Pandemic’ and Bridgitte Assinewai discussed her experiences in teaching Anishinaabemowin during COVID-19. 

Panel discussions in the afternoon included Mr. Manitowabi , Ms. Assinewai and Tracy Cleland on the first day, while roundtable discussions on the roles and responsibilities as learners and speakers as well as way that the current generation and next generation will benefit from education, curriculum and immersion filled out the day.

The second day of the conference began with a presentation on Anishinaabemowin During Pandemic by Velma Assinewai, a presentation by Phyliss Williams on ‘My experience during COVID-19’ and an untitled presentation by Martina Osawamick.

Following lunch, a panel discussion between Jack Wemigwans, Ms. Williams and Mr. Manitowabi took place followed by roundtable discussions on ‘Levels of Fluency and How to Measure: How do we know what we are doing is working?;’ and ‘Styles of Learning/Teaching and Repetition.’

The conference was well-attended and judged a resounding success by all despite the unfamiliar digital venue.