Symposium on Indigenous languages revitalization

Self-determined Indigenous language learning programs, planning and research: Building bridges across Language Revitalization and Applied Linguistics scholarship

Symposium Organizers:
Onowa McIvor, University of Victoria and Andrea Sterzuk, University of Regina

Symposium Abstract

Current Indigenous language maintenance, revitalization and recovery work is an unfortunate reality due to the destructive colonial forces on our languages. Despite the external causes for the efforts now needed, the responses and recovery work must be driven and directed by Indigenous peoples themselves. That is, this Indigenous Language Revitalization movement must be inherently self-determined and self-governed, and therefore Indigenous-led.

Nonetheless, Indigenous language revitalization work is most effective and thus most expeditious, when research-informed and ally-supported. Those working in additional language learning and Applied Linguistics hold special knowledge and skills that could be extended to Indigenous Language Revitalization to great gains. Therefore, an important next step on this journey of Indigenous language revitalization, maintenance and recovery is then, “Building a bridge across the divide” of the fields of Indigenous Language Revitalization and Applied Linguistics for the rapid advancement of Indigenous languages. A stronger partnership across these fields could benefit both groups in multiple ways.

All panelists will share examples of Applied Linguistics informed practices in Indigenous Language Revitalization contexts and discuss the benefits that the inclusion of Indigenous language contexts brings to Applied Linguistics research, and conversely, the benefits Applied Linguistics research brings to Indigenous language teaching and research. Further, panelists will share ideas for more prolific dialogues within Applied Linguistics toward explicit inclusion of Indigenous Language Revitalization focused topics and approaches. Allied panelists, while bringing examples from the field, will also bring a challenge and invitation to their colleagues to better inform themselves of Indigenous Language Revitalization practices and research. Indigenous panelists will explore the relationship between their work and the field of Applied Linguistics, as well as potential for stronger links and partnerships in the space between. This panel explores sharing of knowledge across these two fields of study, and argues for greater collective engagement in this work (McIvor, 2018). Working across these two fields more purposefully, would build capacity amongst both Indigenous Language and Applied Linguistics scholars, and maximize the resources available to maintain, revitalize and strengthen nation-wide reconciliation and revitalization efforts of the Indigenous languages of Canada. The papers presented argue for greater connection between the two fields and exciting and useful outcomes subsequently available to both.

Onowa McIvor

Onowa McIvor is maskékow-ininiw (Swampy Cree) and Scottish-Canadian from Treaty 5 territory in northern Manitoba but grew up in Treaty 6. Onowa is an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous Education at the University of Victoria and co-leads the NEȾOLṈEW̱ Research Partnership Grant, a six-year SSHRC project working to understand and enhance Indigenous adults’ contributions to reviving Indigenous languages in Canada.

Panel Abstracts

Methodologies for developing and researching Indigenous language learning courses
Dr. Kari A. B. Chew, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Victoria

Increasingly, Indigenous communities are developing online Indigenous language learning courses as a core component of language revitalization efforts. Despite this trend, research merging relevant fields of Indigenous language revitalization (ILR), computer assisted language learning (CALL), and applied linguistics is limited. Studies of CALL courses privilege majority world languages and ILR research prioritizes in-person learning and teaching methods with the use of technology often limited to documentation of languages. This gap in collaborative scholarship leaves communities with few research-informed models for creating online Indigenous language courses which support useful and meaningful learning experiences and have a clear place within a community’s language plan. Drawing on my experiences both developing online language learning courses for my language, Chikashshanompa’ (Chickasaw), and designing a study of Indigenous community engagement with CALL, I reflect on emerging methodologies for creating CALL courses for Indigenous languages and researching CALL in ILR contexts. Methodologies grounded in Indigenous knowledge and protocols and informed by interdisciplinary tools from applied linguistics, education, and other academic fields have important potential to support Indigenous communities’ work to self-determine their Indigenous language learning programs.

Dr. Kari A. B. Chew is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She is a postdoctoral fellow with the NEȾOLṈEW̱ ‘one mind, one people’ Partnership. Her scholarship focuses on the motivations and experiences of adult additional language learners who are reclaiming their Indigenous heritage languages. Her current research considers the role of technology in connecting learners who live outside their communities to their languages. She earned her doctorate in Language, Reading, and Culture from the University of Arizona.


Contrasting perspectives on Indigenous languages, land and the nature of being and knowing
Belinda Daniels, University of Saskatchewan and Andrea Sterzuk, University of Regina

In recognition of the value of their languages, Indigenous peoples have developed many different revitalization strategies (Johnson, 2012; Hinton, Huss & Ross, 2018; McCarty, Nicholas & Wigglesworth, 2019; McIvor & Anisman, 2018). Indigenous language reclamation is imperative as Indigenous languages foster well-being; are identity markers and carry incommensurable intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual properties. We come to this work from diverse positions and we declare our positionality because it shapes our research and this paper. “The idea of ethical space, produced by contrasting perspectives of the world, entertains the notions of a meeting place, or initial thinking about a neutral zone between entities or cultures (Ermine, 2007, p. 200). Belinda is a nēhiyaw iskwēw (Cree woman) working in language reclamation while Andrea is a white settler woman working in applied linguistics. In this paper, we build on each other’s ideas, use personal narrative and draw on examples from a study of an Indigenous-led, research-informed and ally-supported nēyihawēwin (Cree language), land-based language camp. We begin by discussing ontological understandings of language, as they differ between the fields of applied linguistics (AL) and Indigenous language revitalization (ILR). We consider what these differences mean in terms of research methodologies and ask what AL and ILR can learn from each other. We also share what we have learned about the role of land or place in ILR and discuss the effort that sustains it. Throughout our paper, we demonstrate that our work together is rooted in an authentic place of relationship.

Belinda Daniels (Sturgeon Lake First Nation) is a grandmother, mother, wife and teacher. She is an emerging adult speaker of nēhiyawēwin; a doctoral student at the University of Saskatchewan and the founder of the nēhiyawak Language Experience, a not-for-profit language revitalization organization.

Andrea Sterzuk is a white settler and grew up in rural Saskatchewan. She holds a PhD in second language education from McGill University. She is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, and the Past President of the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics.


Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching Methodologies Support for Non-Fluent Teachers in Urban Adult Language Revitalization
Dr. Lindsay A. Morcom, Queen’s University

In the field of language revitalization, attention is shifting to consider more strongly the need for, and right to, access to Indigenous languages in urban contexts.  This is particularly the case since the majority of Indigenous people in Canada now live off-reserve in urban centres, and living off-reserve presents a risk factor for language loss (Statistics Canada, 2015). A challenge for urban language revitalization, especially in smaller urban centres or places with smaller Indigenous populations, is a lack of fluent speakers who are available and willing to teach. For that reason, language teaching often falls to people who lack fluency in the language but have passion for revitalization and training in language education or linguistics more generally. This paper reflectively examines my own experience as a non-fluent co-teacher of an introductory, community-based Anishinaabemowin language class. I will reflect on how our teaching team draws from both applied linguistics, and second languages acquisition theories in particular, together with Indigenous teaching methodologies. Together we seek the right balance between grammar, vocabulary, and communicative instruction; oral vs. written instruction; considerations for learner affect and resilience for language learning; the inclusion of culturally important content; and the use of music to reinforce pronunciation and grammatical patterns.

Dr. Lindsay Morcom holds an M.A. in Linguistics from First Nations University of Canada through the University of Regina, and a D.Phil in Linguistics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.  She is now an Associate Professor in Education and holds a Canada Research Chair in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education at Queen’s University. She is a member of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.


Paper title and abstract forthcoming
Kahtehrón:ni Iris Stacey

Kahtehrón:ni Stacey (Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk Territory). Kahtehrón:ni is the Kanien’kehá:ka Curriculum Team Coordinator at the Kahnawà:ke Education Center. She received her masters in Indigenous Languages Revitalization from the University of Victoria and is currently a PhD student at McGill University in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education. Her doctoral research investigates approaches for adult language learners in achieving advanced language proficiency.


“Why are you in this class?”: Exploring complexities in building bridges between ILR (Indigenous Language Revitalization) and AL (Applied Linguistics)
Dabney Warren and Hyunjung Shin

We offer a critical reflection on challenges experienced in efforts to build bridges between the field of ILR and AL. We draw from our experience in an applied linguistics graduate course to unveil the “silenced dialogue” (Delpit, 1988) in this bridge work. This class consists of fifteen newcomer international students and two Indigenous students. We acknowledge that our positionality is important in this reflection. Dabney is an Indigenous teacher educator who’s been working on incorporating Indigenous language and revitalization efforts into her Teacher Education Program classes. She joined the course as a graduate student without prior experience working with international students who are second language speakers of English. Hyunjung is a non-white, allied applied linguistics scholar of immigrant origin and instructor of the course.

While exploring the relationship between her work in Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) and the field of AL, Dabney finds herself troubled by the perception of being a “privileged English speaker born in Canada.” This view is held by some well-meaning newcomer international student peers. These students do not have in-depth understandings of the colonial history of Canada, and genuinely admire Dabney’s excellent command of English without realizing the complexity of this reality. Hyunjung’s challenge as the course leader and non-white ally is creating meaningful learning space to unveil the “silenced dialogue” for both groups.

We take this experience as a valuable opportunity to include ILR topics within AL in a meaningful way. The binary of “native” and “nonnative” speakers of English prevalent in AL misses the context for some newcomer international students to see Indigenous speakers of English within the colonial history in Canada. We explore the importance of intersectionality (cf. Delgado and Stefancic 2001) through analysis of racialisation and racism in Canada in building stronger bridges between the fields of ILR and AL.

Dabney Warren, nehiyaw (Cree) from Mistahi sipiy (Big River First Nations), is grounded with her traditional teachings from her nehiyaw culture and language. Dabney received her Bachelor of Education from ITEP at the University of Saskatchewan (UofS) and has received two post graduate certificates in Indigenous Languages and Special Education. She is currently completing her MEd in Curriculum Studies focused on incorporating Indigenous Language and Culture within the K-12 curriculum and in higher education. Dabney is an Instructor/Mentor in the ITEP program at UofS.

Hyunjung Shin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research interests include critical applied linguistics; language, power and identity; language ideologies; globalization and transnationalism, and postcolonialism. She has written extensively on the question of study abroad and English learning under globalization and neoliberalism as well as critical pedagogy and decolonizing second language teacher education.