First Nations University introduces new Indigenous language podcast project

Pîkiskwêwin is an Indigenous language podcast that encourages the revitalization of endangered Indigenous languages.

The federally-funded project was initiated by Shannon Avison, a professor in the Indigenous Communication and Fine Arts department at the First Nations University of Canada. Avison wanted to create a project highlighting Indigenous languages.

“There’s a long history of trying to undermine and extinguish the languages from residential schools and the ‘60s Scoop,” Avison said.

The project commissions Indigenous language learners of all levels and ages to plan, produce and host the podcasts.

“There’s nothing like this project where you can actually have the elders and the youth work together,” said Bee Bird, a First Nations University student and Pîkiskwêwin producer.

Pîkiskwêwan launched in fall 2021, with the first 12 podcasts published in early April 2022. Elders and fluent speakers are working alongside language learners, creating mentorships between Indigenous people of all ages and encouraging the use and learning of endangered languages. 

Indigenous language podcast website launches on Indigenous Language Day.

The project currently has podcasts in Plains Cree, Dakota, Mechif, Dene, and Saulteaux. Podcast themes range from food sovereignty, teaching, parenting, leadership, praying to art and architecture.

Avison envisioned the project as producing lifestyle podcasts rather than as an educational tool.

“There’s really, I would say, a real awakening. The trajectory of losing speakers and losing actual languages.” Avison said. “If we want to turn that around, you’ve got to get young people interested in learning their languages again, and that means you’ve got to have good teaching and good interesting things for them to want to learn.”

Alexander Pelletier, the host of Mawmaw Sachweezin: Mom’s Kitchen, emphasizes the importance of language revitalization projects. 

“The younger generation need to know their identity and where they came from. They need to know the history of our people and the foods,” Pelletier said. “They need to know where they came from and who they are. It’s very important because it’s an identity thing. There’s not much available for people and their languages and therefore they’re all being lost.”

Bee Bird sees potential in the future of Indigenous language and the media. 

“I’d want to see more engagement with the youth and the Elders,” Bird said. “This podcast really opened my eyes to learning my language and how important it is to keep it alive.” 

Pelletier reminisced as he spoke his language and cooked traditional food with his sister, Beatrice, for Pîkiskwêwin.

“My favorite part is just cooking and talking with my sister,” Pelletier said. “I think of my mother and my father and my ancestors when I’m cooking and when I’m speaking my language. That is the best part of it.”

Avison sees language learning as a new opportunity for Indigenous people to practice journalism in their native language.

“I guess that’s the other thing is, it’s shown me that people can do journalism in Indigenous languages,” Avison said. “For people to actually ask questions and get answers in the languages, you know, that’s research and that’s journalism.”

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