Patricia Ningewance is well known for her work in keeping First Nations languages alive and well by publishing a number of books dealing with the subject, notably Talking Gookom’s Language. She was in Thunder Bay with Wawatay radio announcer and translator Jerry Sawanas on December 19 -20 to launch the latest of four pocket phrase books (the previous three are in Ojibwe, Swampy Cree and Inuktitut) dealing with the Oji-Cree language.
Opening at the Waverley Resource Library they explained to a small but enthusiastic group the importance of keeping native language alive while utilizing a practical demonstration of calling up members of the audience to ask a question from the book in Oji-Cree which they then answered.
Ningewance explained about her involvement in indigenous language.“ Well I first began with a book called Survival Ojibwe, which was very popular but now out of print. I then put out a bigger version called Talking Gookom’s Language which was also very popular, I teach Ojibwe at the University of Manitoba, but the pocket series I had always wanted to do and I had a drawer full of phrases text I could use so I made them into phrase book topics, things that a person would need to know to get around in the community or in everyday situations such as talking on the phone or visiting places like the clinic, hospital, the social workers office or in the bush and then I made it so that it contained all sorts of medical terminology so that’s intended also for fluent speakers, people who work in lawyers offices, nursing stations any of those programs where they need to say different things so the books have got two purposes, one for learners and one for professional fluent people.” She added,“ I did the first one in Ojibwe and it was really successful and then I had it translated into Inuit and that’s been out for maybe seven years now and later I had it translated into Swampy Cree-Northern Manitoba area.”
One of the greatest concerns is the fact that the younger generation is losing touch with their traditional language when asked if her books helped to keep it alive she replied, “I think so, because with pocket Ojibwe which has been around for awhile, when I see young people buying it and they sell it at gas stations in Winnipeg and at powwows and a lot of people buy it, they thank me for getting it printed. They really appreciate that they have a small book like that where they can use phrases from it, where they can increase their vocabulary with the language that is in it and it has place names and that’s important that we name the places in our regions in our language.”
Following the library another launch took place later that afternoon at the Fort William Arts and Craft Fair, which met with success.
Monday the 21st saw them at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Hospital for a final presentation where a large crowd gathered to listen, participate and to buy copies of the book.
Sawanas shared his thoughts on the launchings.
“I think we have been looking for resources for our community members and also others that want to learn our language and there are quiet a few and so Pat started doing these pocket dictionaries/ phrase books and I think it is so important to have these materials because people don’t know where to look for resources to help them learn their languages or people from other cultures wanting to learn our languages so when she asked me, I thought it was such a great idea that she is doing this, I jumped at the chance to help her.” He continued, “It took a few months to get all the phrases down. If you go up North and you want to go to the medical center, airport or band office it provides all the questions so that you can find your way around the community and that’s the beauty of this book, once you go into the community you have your phrase book and that’s how you can begin good conversations on language.
People love to be engaged with others learning their language so I am really hoping that especially the communities will take to these phrase books and use them because you need to start somewhere and this is a great starting point. I think its it’s a very good way for getting people talking.” He concluded, “This is a new thing that’s happening amongst our people, where we are promoting our languages and when you promote yourself you create excitement and I hope it picks up and goes everywhere.”
Adrian Lawrence is a teacher at North Spirit First Nations he attended the library launch and shared, “Today some of the things I have known already. The sounds in Oji-Cree are quiet different in English and the annotate and inanimate I find really interesting. No Oji-Cree is not a dead language, there are still thousands of people who speak it and it’s important that it doesn’t disappear.”
James Morris Executive Director of the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority who attended the Meno Ya Win launch concurred.“ We have to do something because dealing with languages is a big job and this is a good start. It is also a good way of helping young people retain their language, you can lose your language in one generation and because English is so available, the teaching system is English the media is in English you have to deal with all that. I think this is a great undertaking and we need more of this.”
Ningewance is currently working on a book of legends.“ Because my Mom was a great storyteller and I would like to write out her stories and have them illustrated in the language and have translations of them at the back. The mandate from my company is to publish in the language so when people ask me to publish their poems or short stories in English, I won’t touch them. It’s got to be in the language ”she said.
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