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New textbook, podcast aim to keep Stoney Nakoda language alive in Alberta

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Preserving the Stoney Nakoda language is the purpose behind an ongoing project to create school resources to teach the language to younger generations.

The Stoney Education Authority (SEA) released its latest language revitalization tools Monday morning, including a Stoney Nakoda Level 2 Textbook for teaching the language in schools, a printed version of the Stoney Nakoda Student Dictionary (previously only available online) and a Stoney podcast featuring nation elders telling stories to keep the language and culture alive.

"It's important because language and culture go hand in hand," said Cherith Marks of the Stoney Education Authority.

"It's very important to preserve it, to have the language written. Especially in print, so that it continues into the generations that will be following us because we're even creating resources for ones who are not born yet."

Since 2019, the SEA, with support from The Language Conservancy (TLC), has involved elders from three area First Nations — Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley — along with support workers and linguists, to create language resources for use in nation schools.

Normally, it takes decades to create comprehensive language dictionaries, but TLC, a non-profit group of linguists, developed a technique called "rapid word collection" that captures native speakers' knowledge in just 10 days of intensive sessions.

"I think the surprising thing, in terms of building out these materials, was really trying to do that in the midst of COVID. So we had to be adaptive and learn new techniques, and develop some new technologies," said Wilhelm Meya, TLC CEO.

"That's really helped us not just succeed in this project, but now we're able to apply those technologies to other projects around the country as well, so we're happy about that."

Groups of Stoney speakers, working with TLC linguists using software developed for documenting language, recorded examples of words from 17 different categories.

"We were taught to pass on all the knowledge and what we have learned in the past so that it will never be lost," said Elder Phillomene Stevens.

"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."

Through the collaboration, the SEA produced its first set of tools in late 2021, aimed at an elementary school audience.

It included three picture books, a Level 1 Textbook, an alphabet colouring book, a 9,000-word online and mobile dictionary, a textbook accompanying a media-player app and a vocabulary-building app.

Those tools are already in use in two First Nation schools in Morley, Alta., one in the Municipal District of Bighorn and one in Eden Valley

Stoney elders maintain teaching children their ancestral language is key to cultural survival.

"Language is part of us, part of every Indigenous people. That's the most important part of their lives. So they have to know, they have to understand and they have to learn," said Elder Virgil Stevens.

"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."

Many of the resources created by the SEA-TLC collaboration will be available to all Albertans, not just those living on a First Nation, who are interested in learning more about the Stoney Nakoda language.

More information can be found by contacting the SEA.

TLC is a non-profit organization that supports Indigenous language revitalization by developing programs, materials and technologies in partnership with Indigenous communities.

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