Nikki Shawana says she feels a sense of responsibility to teach the next generation about Anishinaabemowin culture and language.
She is Odawa nation, Eagle clan and calls Norfolk County home. For the next six months, Shawana will be part of a new Indigenous language program with the Waterloo Region District School Board teaching Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in Waterloo region and beyond.
Class takes place every Saturday and it’s open to anyone in Grades 1 through 12.
She joined CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Morning Edition to talk about why she wants to teach students about Anishinaabemowin culture and how to speak it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: Why are you interested in helping students learn Anishinaabemowin language?
Well, it’s so important to me … and why I’m so excited that the Waterloo Region District School Board is offering this program is because I know what it’s like growing up in southern Ontario and going to school here.
And when I went to school, there was no access to Anishinaabemowin programs anywhere. There was no chance or opportunity, really, for you to learn if you were in southern Ontario and not close to an Anishinaabe community.
But there are many people who would like to learn this language. The fact that it is being offered now and that it’s virtual and open to such a wide range of people, I think that’s really important and it’s just awesome that now it’s accessible for people.
CBC K-W: What does it mean to be a part of a program that will give Indigenous students an opportunity to learn a language that, as you say, you didn’t have a chance to learn growing up?
It means a lot. It’s so important. I was I was looking at some articles yesterday that show when students see themselves in the classroom, when they see themselves in their school board, they do a lot better.
They feel a lot more comfortable and, like I said, when I was young, I didn’t have those opportunities. I wasn’t able to see myself. I think this helps, Indigenous students feel included and to be able to see themselves and feel really good.
I think it’s going to have a positive impact on anybody who joins the class to learn about our language and to learn about the teachings that are in our language — because it’s not only words, it’s teachings. And it’s the way that we see the world and the way that we respect the environment around us.
CBC K-W: Tell us what students are going to be learning about.
The first class, we really focused on the sounds that you have in Anishinaabemowin. We checked out the sound chart and we’re … learning how to say all the sounds on that chart.
Once you learn all the sounds on that chart, you could say any word in Anishinaabemowin because they’re all made up of those sounds. We’re really starting from the beginning, really starting from the basics.
Hopefully that’s encouraging to anybody who’s thinking about taking the class — that we’re starting from step one and working our way from there.
CBC K-W: You’ve had your own journey in learning Anishinaabemowin. Tell us a bit about that.
I had always been interested in learning Anishinaabemowin. The language was pretty strong in my family when I was growing up, but unfortunately I was never taught the language. But I was always interested — and I could always hear my aunts and uncles and my dad speaking to each other in the language.
When I was young, I started reading dictionaries and books to start learning. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I’d always pick up a book and read it, so I got to learn a lot of vocabulary and I learned a lot of words.
Now that I’m an adult, it’s been working on putting those words together and forming sentences and conjugating. I think there’s a really neat perspective as a second-language learner, somebody who already thinks in English and trying to convert that now to Anishinaabemowin.
CBC K-W: You’ve been teaching people about the Anishinaabemowin culture and language for some time. For you, Nikki, what do you take away from it?
I get to take away feeling good, proud and that I’m helping as a young Anishinaabe person or somebody who knows a little bit of the language. I’m not a master in any sense of the word, or I wouldn’t call myself fluent, but I do feel a responsibility to be able to share what I know to get people started in their language learning journey.
There’s pressure because our language teachers are getting older and they’re passing away and so who’s going to be there to carry this on afterwards?
And how are we going to get people learning so that they’re interested, so that we still have language teachers in the future and that we still have our language in the future? It means the world.
The Morning Edition – K-W6:17Why this Indigenous woman is teaching students in Waterloo region and beyond about the Anishinaabemowin language