Saving Indigenous languages
Faculty's first CRC to tackle crisis
Amid the buzz of revelry recognizing the University of Manitoba’s two new Canada Research Chair (CRC) appointments, Dr. Frank Deer struck a somber note, underlining the urgency of his work as CRC in Indigenous education.
“It all seems very celebratory but the purpose of my work is actually to address a crisis, and I think that can’t be overlooked,” Deer said in remarks during the CRC media event staged at Migizii Agamik, Bald Eagle Lodge. “I am interested in Indigenous languages, and interested on behalf of a growing concern about how some Indigenous languages in Canada are disappearing. … Without action on the part of communities, on the part of schools, and on the part of post-secondary institutions, many of those languages across Canada may not be with us much longer.”
Deer cited recent studies that predict most Indigenous languages—with the exception of Cree, Anishinaabe and Inuktitut—will not last much longer than the next few generations.
“So it’s very important for us to recognize that there is an opportunity here—not only to work toward reclaiming languages for Indigenous Peoples—but also to recognize how Indigenous languages are in an essential part of Indigenous identities in Canada.”
In an interview, Deer explained that during his five-year appointment he will pursue three lines of inquiry about Indigenous languages, including public school systems, Cree-language dialects, and the confluence between language and religion, particularly how churches have stored written language in their attempts to present scripture in Indigenous languages.
“It’s going to be an interesting few years. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
The announcement, a part of a $2.4-million investment for University of Manitoba researchers, marks the Faculty of Education’s first CRC appointment.
“It feels good to be the first,” said Deer, who served as acting associate dean undergraduate in 2014, adding he is grateful for the support the faculty has shown him, including Dean David Mandzuk, Associate Dean Charlotte Enns, finance manager Rita Courchaine, and singling out former research facilitator, Karen Schwartz.
“Karen Schwartz is a superstar and I don’t know if I could have really expressed myself in ways that would have been understood by the adjudicators of the proposal, if it weren’t for Karen,” Deer says, adding the CRC appointment allows him time to conduct focused academic work.
“I think this is going to contribute one part to a larger discussion about Indigenous studies in primary and secondary education,” Deer says. “… And I’m happy to have the smallest of small roles in doing that. If my work informs that a little bit it would be very, very good news to me.”