Algonquin language speakers in the Ottawa-Gatineau area are encouraged by census statistics showing that more Indigenous people are speaking their language.
According to information released this week from the 2016 census, 1,015 people in Ottawa-Gatineau reported speaking an Indigenous language, up from 565 in the 2011 census — nearly an 80 per cent increase.
“I think it’s really encouraging. I think it’s really awesome,” said Jay Odjick, a comic book artist, writer, and television producer originally from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, 130 kilometres north of Gatineau.
“It gives me a lot of hope that I think it’s just kind of the beginning of a movement of younger Native people to reclaim language and revitalize it.”
Odjick is the creator of the animated television series Kagagi, which was broadcast in Algonquin. He also regularly posts an Algonquin “word of the day” on Twitter with translations and illustrations to encourage language learning.
“As I’ve been going through this whole process my own self and trying to learn, it’s been really encouraging to see so many other people trying too,” he said.
“And when you hear the numbers that are coming out of the census, it just kind of adds on to that. With so many of us trying to learn together, we’re going to be able to help each other and we’re going to be able to encourage each other.”
‘We have to bring it back strong’
According to the census, 228,770 Canadians reported speaking an Indigenous language at home. While Algonquin elder Annie Smith St-Georges also finds the updated numbers promising, she believes it’s important to remember why many Indigenous people in Canada don’t speak their language.
She points to the abuse many children endured at residential and day schools when they tried to speak Indigenous languages. She attended a day school in Maniwaki, Que., in the 1950s and 60s.
“You didn’t want to speak it. You were ashamed of your own language. You were ashamed of who you were. They wanted you to be ashamed of who you were. That’s how come the language has been lost,”…