UM Today UM Today University of Manitoba UM Today UM Today UM Today
News from
Faculty of Arts
UM Today Network
Watercolour painting of two heads facing each other with flowing language bubbles coming out of their mouths. Colours include blues, yellows, oranges, and reds.

Indigenous languages bring educational and economic opportunities

National Indigenous Languages Day is celebrated on March 31st

March 27, 2024 — 

According to Statistics Canada, there are 70 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada that carry deep cultural significance and are integral to the identities of Indigenous communities across the country.

National Indigenous Languages Day was first celebrated in Canada in 1993. Originally meant to encourage public awareness of endangered languages, it has expanded to provide an opportunity for conversations about many other benefits and opportunities including educational and economic benefits to both Indigenous communities and the broader Canadian society.

An endangered language requires more support than just teaching new speakers to use it in the home. To bring a language back, it takes an overall effort to build up both human and teaching resources. This can be accomplished through teaching individuals how to understand, speak and write the language, how to respect and acknowledge the teachings and knowledge built into a language, how to use the language in professional settings, how to teach the language to others, and how to document the language by creating resources such as dictionaries, textbooks, worksheets and videos.

Universities can play a pivotal role in supporting Indigenous language revitalization efforts through their courses, their experts, their resources, and their cultural programs and supports.

UM currently offers language instruction in Ojibwe and Cree. Students are supported in their learning with language tutors, resources and language drop-ins led by Elders. Courses help to teach the languages along with the history and structure of the languages. This combination assists those looking to not only learn to speak and understand but also to teach others; to help grow the number of speakers in Manitoba. Academics and graduate students in the Faculty have also provided their expertise in the development of various resources to document Indigenous languages; helping to secure their existence into the future.

Proficiency in Indigenous languages can open-up diverse career opportunities. In sectors such as education, healthcare, government and public service, social services, and law, there is a growing demand for professionals who can communicate effectively with Indigenous communities in their own languages. Documentation and transcription professionals are also in demand. Industries across Canada including resource and environmental management, arts and media, publishing, and tourism and hospitality have an increased need for bilingual speakers. Bilingualism in English or French and an Indigenous language can increase employability and the ability to serve Indigenous populations more effectively.

Over the next two years, the Faculty of Arts is working to expand the Indigenous languages program offerings to help meet the growing occupational demand and to make the programs more accessible to adult learners and those outside of Winnipeg.

With the growing interest in learning Indigenous languages from both a cultural and economic perspective, there are more courses and programs being offered in K to 12 schools, universities, and by community groups than ever before. “The more programs and supports we can offer to new learners, the better chance we have to document and grow the languages,” said Dr. Lorena Sekwan Fontaine, associate professor and department head of Indigenous Studies, “with the additional benefit of developing speakers who can turn their new language skills into a variety of job opportunities.”

As we celebrate National Indigenous Languages Day in 2024, let’s take a moment to celebrate the work that’s been done so far and look forward to continuing the tasks necessary to revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada.


Learn more about the Department of Indigenous Studies and the Indigenous languages minor.

Learn more about the Department of Linguistics.


, , , ,

© University of Manitoba • Winnipeg, Manitoba • Canada • R3T 2N2

Emergency: 204-474-9341