B.C. First Nation app revitalizing Indigenous language with modern approach
The Ditidaht First Nation on Vancouver Island is putting language and culture at people’s fingertips.
The nation’s app, Ditidaht Kids, is making use of new technology to share a centuries-old language.
"Preserving our language in modern ways is definitely needed to keep up with contemporary times," said Tina Joseph, Ditidaht Kids research and production manager.
"The app provides a way for kids to hear the sounds and for them to connect the words to images."
The free game has more than 2,000 downloads, she said. It takes kids on a canoe trip through Ditidaht’s territory, teaching them language, stories and songs.
"They’re playing characters who look like them on an iPad," Joseph said. "The representation is huge."
Tim Masso, 18, used apps while learning Nuu-chah-nulth. He said his niece is a fan of the Ditidaht app.
"She just has a delightful time playing their games," said Masso, a member of Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nation.
"Apps are an amazing way to get language out there because people are constantly using a phone."
While growing up, Masso noticed a lack of learning opportunities for Indigenous languages in school. He took some classes through the University of Victoria, and ended up teaching Nuu-chah-nulth to his peers in high school.
Language is a key piece of his identity.
"When you’re growing up, you need to know who you are," said Masso, who has an Indigenous language revitalization diploma.
"I could understand the land that I was on. It made me feel more connected to the place that I grew up on," he said.
Masso hopes more people develop that understanding. To help make that happen, he wants governments to invest in teaching tools, from roadside signage to free online curriculums.
Onowa McIvor, an Indigenous language revitalization professor at UVic, said technology has a place in the field.
"But it’s not everything," she said. "You also need to [be spending] time together and hearing the language directly from people who speak it and spending time on the land and doing traditional activities."
Teaching both children and adults is key, she said.
"We have this gap of adults in our communities who generally didn’t have the opportunity to learn the language due to forces of colonization," McIvor said.
Between 70 and 90 Indigenous languages are spoken in Canada — some with thousands of speakers, others with just one, she said.
"In the spirit of reconciliation, everybody needs to be concerned about the disappearance of Indigenous languages," McIvor said.
"Everybody needs to be excited about the continuation of Indigenous languages and make efforts towards that."
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