At the first annual Great Plains Culture and Language Gathering in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., keynote speaker Lorraine Yuzicapi spoke on the importance of language in the home.
Yuzicapi recalled a time when she as young as three or four years old, her late father began teaching her and her siblings English as they prepared to go to residential school in Lebret, Sask.
“He told us we’ll never forget our language, it’s always in our hearts,” Yuzicapi said. “It’s up to us to bring it out, nobody can’t do it for us. So, however we learn, even with mistakes in our words, we gotta keep going like that.”
The inaugural gathering featured presentations on the roles and responsibilities, as well as kinship and values, from some of the language groups found within Saskatchewan, such as Nehiyaw (Cree), Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakoda and Lakota.
Yuzicapi first began residential school in 1950 when she was six years old. Now an elder at 73, Yuzicapi recalled how she and her siblings spoke Dakota to other children from Standing Buffalo or Sioux Valley, but only when there were no nuns in earshot.
Yuzicapi said her father told her that children in residential school were punished if they were caught speaking their language.
“Sometimes it’s a public strapping. They mainly hit your hands and then they wash your mouth with soap and water,” Yuzicapi said.
At the gathering which took place Sept. 12-15, Yuzicapi, spoke twice on the importance of language in the home, as well as traditional food and preparation methods.
“It’s up to us. So now, that’s where where I, for the last 40 or 50 years, I’ve been on that trail with both my food and my language — trying to teach.”
StatsCan suggests decline
The gathering was held on Treaty 4 territory and put a focus on the state of Indigenous languages in the province, giving those in attendance a chance to “strengthen, share, and assess the states of [the] languages and cultures,” noting some were in “critical need of immediate attention,” the Files Hill Qu’Appelle Tribal Council said in a news release.
People who identified an Indigenous language as their mother tongue decreased within the province in 2016, from 30,895 to 28,340 in 2016, according to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census data.
In Saskatchewan, the other Indigenous languages spoken are Dene and Ojibwa.
Taking a proactive approach
Yuzicapi has been speaking Dakota in her home and to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which relies on…