By Jeremy Appel
(ANNews) – U.S.-based non-profit the Language Collective (TLC), which exists to enhance Indigenous cultural education across Turtle Island through language preservation, has released three new resources aimed at preserving the Stoney Nakoda language.
The resources consist of a Stoney Nakoda Level 2 Textbook for instruction in schools, a print Stoney Nakoda Student Dictionary, and a Stoney Podcast, where Elders tell stories to keep the culture and language alive.
Twenty Elders were present for the unveiling of these resources at the Stoney Nakoda Resort in Kananaskis on Jan. 23.
Wilhelm Meya, the Bloomington, Indiana-based CEO and chairman of TLC, told Alberta Native News the Stoney Education Authority (SEA) reached out to TLC in 2019 to assist the authority to “sequence a set of curriculum and resources that they could use in their school systems.”
The process began with the dictionary, since there wasn’t yet one in existence for the Stoney Nakoda language, which compiled 14,000 words and has been available online for about a year. There’s also an app.
Through its rapid word collection process, TLC is able to build a dictionary in a year — far quicker than the 20 years it used to take, Meya added.
Once they collect the words, it takes another six-to-12 months for the Elders to go over them and re-record certain words and phrases if they’re not entirely accurate.
“These Elders are providing a legacy not just for their children and grandchildren today, but essentially for the next generations moving forward, so this is going to be an important step in the rebuilding of the Stoney Nakoda language,” he said.
With the dictionary completed, TLC worked to write the curriculum with dozens of Stoney Nakoda Elders and other band contributors, who approved its content at every step in the process.
“We’re just in some ways facilitating the transfer of the language between generations,” Meya, who isn’t Indigenous, said of TLC’s role. “We see ourselves as a bridge from the speakers and the Elders who have the language to the young people who want to learn the language but are needing the resources and materials to successfully learn it.”
The sequenced textbook was the culmination of this work, which, like the dictionary, is the first of its kind in the Stoney language.
For the textbook component, Meya said the TLC uses a template for similar languages, and then has a linguist translate its content into Stoney.
Stoney leaders then review the textbook to ensure the “words are correct, the context is correct [and] the illustrations represent the Stoney environment and worldview.”
“It’s a painstaking process to make sure that it aligns very closely to the way they would like to see these textbooks reflect their own world,” Meya said.
Stoney Elder Phillomene Stevens told CTV News it’s of the utmost importance to “pass on all the knowledge and what we have learned in the past so that it will never be lost.”
“There was a time back that I remember that the only language I knew was Stoney, and then I was put into a school, and then I was told you have to speak English. That’s why I really believe in teaching our knowledge, so that the damages that have happened won’t happen to the younger generation,” Stevens added.
Elder Virgil Stevens told CTV “language is the most important part of our lives.”
“We share the traditional ways we do storytelling, it was passed on down through generations. And now it is our time, it is our turn to pass that on down,” he said.
While the resources, which are the property of the SEA, are intended for use in Stoney Nakoda band schools, they’re also available to the public.
If band members who live off reserve want to access them, they can do so at https://www.stoneyeducation.ca/stoney-nakoda-language.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.