(Un)learning through a research internship about Indigenous language revitalization: A story of an encounter between a PhD student and two professors (by Ingrid Jasor, Dr Belinda (kakiyosēw) Daniels and Dr Andrea Sterzuk)

Ingrid Jasor, the first of our team of three guest bloggers this week, is a PhD student in Education from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Language Science/Linguistics from Université des Antilles in Guadeloupe, a Caribbean Island she calls home. Her research topics are centered around bilingualism in diglossia context, minoritized language valorization and revitalization as well as additional language acquisition processes. She is also an English as a Second/Foreign Language teacher and an avid language learner. Apart from her native French and Kréyòl-Gwadloup languages and bilingual English, she is currently practicing her Spanish, working on getting back to her Arabic (Fusha) and is now honored to be learning Innu-Aimun and nēhiyawēwin (Cree) Indigenous languages.

Belinda kakiyosēw Daniels, our guest blogger last week, and Andrea Sterzuk are old friends of BILD; for their biographical information, please scroll to the end of the post.

This blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Ingrid speaks:

On a Friday morning in March 2022, I found myself writing an email to Drs. Belinda (kakiyosēw) Daniels and Andrea Sterzuk. Reaching out to two recognized researchers after reading one of their co-authored articles is one of the wildest things I have ever done as a PhD student/junior researcher! You see, I am a French and Kréyòl Gwadloup-speaking “Black Antillean” (Celestine, 2011), from Guadeloupe (originally named “Karukera” or the “island of beautiful waters” by the Kalinago people), an island in the Caribbean colonized by the French.

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We were always on a journey (by Dr Saskia Van Viegen)

Saskia Van Viegen, our guest blogger this week, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University. Her research and scholarship focus on bi/multilingualism in education.

As I write this post, Canada marks the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2022.  The purpose of this day is to recognize and account for historic and ongoing injustices toward Indigenous peoples in Canada, to make visible the dispossession of Indigenous lands and communities by white settler society, and to restore value in Indigenous ways of knowing. 

Toward these purposes, my reflection here is but one layer in locating myself as a white settler in this context, to consider my positioning in relation to Indigenous languages and to engage my responsibility, as a language educator and applied linguist, to support work toward their revival.  Drawing on the work of Indigenous scholars in Canada who generate, articulate and share such knowledge, including, for instance, Jan Hare, Onowa McIvor, Belinda Daniels, Eve Tuck, Donna Patrick and others, I hope to contribute to continued efforts to reverse the gaze and understand how whiteness and monolingual norms have been centred in language education, and to consider the roles and responsibilities of settlers and allies in supporting their work.

I am a white settler Canadian, with roots in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. My mother and father immigrated to Canada with their families after the second world war, leaving behind their experiences of war, destruction, and starvation.  My mother and father landed at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1949 and 1952, respectively, and their families ultimately settled in a working-class community in southern Ontario, a small town on the north coast of Lake Erie. 

Queen Elizabeth Passenger List, 1949.
Photo credit: Saskia Van Viegen
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Following the path of our Binnigula’sa [ancestors]: celebrating distinct ways of walking through our world (by Dr Joshua Schwab Cartas)

Joshua Schwab Cartas, our guest blogger this week, uses video as an educational tool to explore Indigenous language revitalization strategies in the Isthmus Zapotec community of his maternal grandfather in Ranchu Gubiña, Oaxaca, Mexico. For many years he has worked with a Diidxazá (Zapotec) media collective, combining his familiarity with contemporary oral histories of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, his background in ancient and colonial Zapotec visual culture, and the use of cellphones and other new media in the creation of participatory video. Joshua completed his Ph.D. at McGill University in 2019 and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia.

All my life I was perceived as an underachiever and told I was not destined to go to university, much less be considered for a position in academia. I was perceived this way because of an undiagnosed learning disability, which was only “discovered” in the last year of my undergraduate degree. I recall that once my official diagnosis came in, confirming I had dyslexia and dyscalculia, I was disheartened, and thought of all the times well-intentioned instructors, perhaps not understanding how to recognize and support a person with an undiagnosed disability, asked me to reconsider other courses, or the times I was flatly told not to come back because I would fail the course.

However, when I told my bixozebida (grandfather) about my official diagnosis, he sensed my worry and said to me, it is a gift (which is the same thing that was said to me by Elder-in-residence at UBC, Larry Grant), not a curse, but something that makes you, uniquely Joshua! My grandfather’s message was therefore to embrace it, use it to your advantage, just as he told me to embrace our Zapotec way of being in the world. And that is exactly what I did!

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Learning to learn about acquiring Indigenous languages (by Dr Mela Sarkar)

Twenty-one McGill Master’s students in Education and I have just finished a wild ride through what’s called a “Special Topics” course from January through mid-April. It was called “Acquiring Indigenous languages as second languages,” and was quite possibly the most exhilarating, tormenting, troubling and ultimately satisfying experience I can recall in 25 or so years of teaching graduate courses in applied linguistics.

But I have to re-think that word “teaching,” because I have no illusions that I taught that course. It taught me.

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Educating young Canadians about Indigenous language and culture: then and now (by Dr. Mela Sarkar)

When I was growing up in downtown Toronto in the 1960s, I expect our elementary-school social studies textbooks must have said something or other about the early encounters of white European settlers with Indigenous peoples in Canada, although I don’t actually remember any words or images from the textbooks we were issued at Brown Public School, Jr. Almost certainly, though, the 1967-ish Ontario social studies curriculum referred to “explorers” and “Indians” and did not use words like “invasion” or “exploitation.”

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