Native Language Programs: What they Need

Dorothy Thunder’s Cree language classroom, University of Alberta, with student Angela van Essen

Thank you to Cree Literacy Network board member Ken Paupanekis for sharing this conference paper from 2007 that reflects on what a successful Native language program needs. As a first-language speaker of Cree, Ken’s extensive experience includes teaching, school and board administration in Manitoba: all front-line work. He currently teaches Cree for both University College of the North and at the University of Manitoba. His observations in this paper about how – and why – language revitalization should be supported provide a really useful foundation for examining – and improving – existing programs. His observations from 2007 also allow us to consider how much things have changed since then, and how much more change is needed. 


Language is an important part of living and it is critical that teachers have a good understanding of the language used in the classroom. Osmon and Craver (1999) say that “it is doubtful that we could even think without language; our thinking usually parallels language concepts, and bad thinking may be, in many cases, a poor use of language” (p. 295). They contend that many educational problems are language problems and that solving language problems will “in effect better solve the educational problems” (p. 296).

Many surveys and studies have shown that native languages are disappearing at an alarming rate (Kirkness, 1998a; 1989; McPherson, 1991; Canada Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996). The lack of adequate native language programs are concerns that are recognized by some, but few people recognize the intricate details that are critical to the revival, teaching and maintenance of native languages. This is not to suggest that Native language programs alone will restore all languages that are fast disappearing.

The prerequisite for keeping a language alive lies not in the schools, but in the home. There needs to be intergenerational transmission first—children learning the ancestral language from their parents and grandparents (Fishman 1996; Nettle & Romaine 2000). Nettle and Romaine compare teaching a Native language in school without intergenerational transmission and community support to “blowing air into a punctured tire” (p. 178). 

The practice of teaching Native language in schools, being a recent phenomenon, has not received the same attention as other academic programs. Also, being a recent phenomenon, its purpose and place in curriculum are often questioned by parents and providers of the programs. What is even more disturbing is that “it is over 25 years that the policy of Indian Control of Indian Education was adopted, yet there is little evidence of curriculum change” (Kirkness, 1998b).

One would think that the creation and support of Native language programs would have been one of the major innovations in the new era of control and quality. We need language teaching methods which means more than just books and materials. The bleak image that seems to shadow Native language programs raises some questions:

  • Why are many Native language teachers reluctant to teach their own language?
  • Why do many students, especially older ones, say “It’s boring”?
  • Why is there very little support for Native language programs?
  • Would anyone be able to define the ideal Native language program?
  • What factors are responsible for the present state of Native language loss?
  • What is the relationship between language and daily communication and interaction?
  • How does educational policy affect retention and loss of language in community and school?

The importance of Native languages has been restated by many Native political organizations who claim that there is an “urgent need to address language development” (McPherson, 1991). The purpose of this paper is to describe some of the conditions that need to be in place in order for Native language programs to experience success; it also explores how some of these conditions can be created to enhance language instruction and thus arrest the rate of language loss.

Condition 1: The Need for Consistency in a Writing System

In any text by Chaucer or Shakespeare, for example, one may notice as many as three different spellings for the same word, sometimes even on the same page. The obvious reason for these differences in spelling is that there was no standard spelling of words at the time, thus creating a situation where the few people who wrote did so using a system with no restrictions or rules of spelling. In other words, there was no consistency in the way people wrote.

Writing in the Native languages is evolving in the same manner at the present time. It is also common for teachers to try to use materials that are produced in several different writing systems. The difficulty that is created when using such materials is the confusion of “How do you spell it?” This is a question frequently asked by students. For example, the Cree word for “what” has been written “kékwán, kakon, kékwaan, and kékon. Professional linguists recognize standardization as “the single most technical issue in language reinforcement” (England 1998, p. 113). No student should be required to memorize several different spellings of the same word. Inconsistency leads to a situation where teachers work by themselves and can’t share their material with anyone else; as well, there is dissatisfaction with their own work. When people do use material other than their own, time must be spent adapting it before using it, a job which most teachers find extremely difficult and justifiably unappealing.

In his creation of the English language dictionary Samuel Johnson “solved” this problem at the time, but there were still many inconsistencies in that writing system. The users of the English at the time simply memorized, accepted and used a system without any question.

Condition 2: Knowledge of the Language and its Characteristics

There is a false assumption that being a speaker of the language automatically qualifies one to be an effective teacher of that language. Perhaps Ahenakew (1987) best describes this inadequacy when she says many people seem to have the notion that just because you are a fluent speaker of a language you ought to be able to teach it, too. This idea is simply preposterous; still, it is an assumption that is often made when it comes to hiring native language teachers. I wonder how many school boards would let their English or French courses be taught by someone without years of special training. Fluency, in any language, is just not enough. (p. 12)

It is the writer’s observation that the formal teaching process is often reversed where writing seems to precede and dominate the other strands of listening, speaking and reading. Knowledge and awareness of the structure and nature of the language that one is teaching enables the teacher to do it in a logical and sequential pattern. For example, in the Cree language (and in other Algonkian languages) the concept of animate or inanimate as a property of nouns is central to that language, in the same way that nouns are either masculine or feminine in French, Italian and Spanish, and masculine, feminine or neuter in German, Russian and Latin. The creation of words, phrases and sentences is very much influenced by the grammatical gender, which is animate and inanimate in Cree. Teachers who are unable to explain or understand the concept of animate and inanimate, in spite of the fact that they are fluent users of that language, will have difficulty in planning, organizing, and delivering lessons or any other unit of work.

Some Characteristics of Algonkian languages include the following:

  • Distinct singular and plural forms of nouns (The distinction exists in English, of course, but the suffixes are different.)
  • Animate and inanimate grammatical gender classes of nouns (Indo-European languages originally distinguished three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. English retains only a vestige of overt grammatical gender—in the third person singular personal pronouns he, she and it.)
  • Obviative forms of nouns and pronouns, with verb agreement [Obviation is a third person dimension of focus not found in English or in other Indo-European languages (See Russell 1996 and Wolfart 1996, on obviation in Plains Cree).]
  • The distinction between “we” that includes the listener(s) and “we” that excludes the listener(s), termed inclusive and exclusive categories
  • Two sets and dimensions of demonstrative pronouns
  • Distinct ways of forming verb tenses, as well as special syntactic rules for their use
  • Four verb categories distinguished by separate verb stem formation and inflectional patterns: Inanimate Intransitive (II), Animate Intransitive (AI), Transitive Inanimate (TI) and Transitive Animate (TA). (English also distinguishes transitivity and intransitivity, but the distinction is not usually apparent in the morphology.)
  • Direct and inverse theme rules of morphosyntax based on a person hierarchy in which the second person ranks first, followed by first person, third person and obviative third person; inanimate ranks after animate. (No such system exists in Indo-European languages.)
  • Often different order of words (syntax), as compared to English
  • Existential sentences with no verb, as in the Woods Cree statement môna nîna atim (I am not a dog), literally, ‘not I dog’ (Castel & Westfall)
  • Locative phrases with special suffixes (The locative case often makes unnecessary the use of prepositions.)

The following are not typically found (if at all) in Algonkian languages:

  • Definite and indefinite articles
  • Pronouns that distinguish “he” and “she.” (For example, Cree has just one animate singular third person pronoun, which may have an additional emphatic form. There are special inanimate singular and plural pronouns, however, to refer to “it/they inanimate.” Many other unrelated languages that have personal pronouns also do not make a he/she distinction with them, for example, Hawaiian, Finnish and Mandarin Chinese. To assume that the lack of such gender distinction is some kind of language deficit is absurd. According to that logic, English would have a deficit in the “we” category!)
  • Adjective as a part of speech. (Concepts expressed by adjectives in English are usually incorporated in verbs or in prefixes. Cree and Ojibwe, for example, have four parts of speech: noun, verb, pronoun and indeclinable particle.)
  • Separate case forms for nouns or pronouns, except for the now rare vocative, and the very frequently occurring locative, which has distinct inflections for nouns and certain nonpersonal pronouns. (Thus, the distinct English first person case forms “I, me, mine” all translate as the same word, for example, Plains Cree niya, Swampy Cree nína, Wood Cree nína, Moose Cree níla, etc. (The Cree emphatic form, for the dialects that have it, is nísta ‘I or me too’).

These are examples of only a few of the more obvious characteristics of Algonkian languages that teachers of an Algonkian language should know, so that teaching a language from that language family can be easier and a lot more enjoyable.

Teachers of a Native language from another language family, for example, Dakota or Dene, will need to become knowledgeable of the unique grammar and sound system of that language. Language teachers benefit greatly from knowing something about language teaching (Archibald, 1993). Unfortunately, there are a very limited number of courses at the university level on principles of teaching Native languages; therefore, the process of formally training Native language teachers is difficult. Cassidy (1992) confirms this concern in that “limited access to training in Aboriginal languages [was] lacking and [there were] not enough teachers” (p. 11).

Presently, most Native language teachers are employed primarily for their verbal fluency, with no specialized training, nor is training recognized as a necessity. Knowledge about teaching Native language will of necessity come only from one’s own experience as a teacher. More importantly, teachers who make their own discoveries and come up with their own effective ideas should be acknowledged and encouraged to share with other instructors. Krashen (1996), in his description of one of several ways to learn language, states that “we use learning…to refer to conscious knowledge of a second language, knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to talk about them. In non-technical terms, learning is knowing about a language” (p. 10). In the meantime, Native language teachers will have to continue independently and sometimes aimlessly seeking more knowledge, creativity, dynamics and resources to make Native languages programs more credible. Knowing about the language, as well as being a speaker of that language, is a good place to begin to implement a Native language program.

Condition 3: Professional Development for Native Language Teachers

Many Native language teachers claim that they have had very little or no professional development to enhance their performance as teachers. The reason that is commonly given for the lack of professional development is “no funds available”. There is a general perception that the mere presence of Native language is sufficient because the teacher is a speaker of the language.

Inadequacy in the Native programs is compounded by what appears to be a cynical attitude by those who are in charge. As Littlebear (1996) describes it; “if they are going to relinquish this teaching responsibility to the schools then they must be supportive” (p. 2). It is common to have a Native language program as an add-on to existing programs with paraprofessionals doing the teaching or an occasional visit from a community person to talk about language and cultural things. Often, in this type of setting there is no recognition of the need for instructional requirements such as classroom management, lesson planning, evaluation of content and other skills needed to teach effectively. It is no wonder that many volunteers become discouraged and quit, or that teachers refuse to teach a Native language. There are Native language teachers who may feel that they do not need any further training, when, in fact, they require much professional development. Teachers who do get the opportunity (and they seldom do) for professional development use this time for making materials.

This is understandable since ready-made materials for teaching Native languages are nonexistent in most cases. There needs to be a long-term professional development plan for the teachers with stated outcomes.

Professional development days should be designated solely for Native language programs, not as left-over days that happen to be available once other subject areas have been assigned, a common practice in many of the systems currently in place. Native language teachers tend to work in isolation from other colleagues due to the fact that there may be one Native language teacher in a particular school. Native language teachers, like all professionals, need to have colleagues and mentors with whom they can interact. Limited interaction with others may create a sense of isolation, if not alienation, from the rest of the teaching staff. Native language teachers need to feel part of a team which is the entire staff, but in many cases this is not happening because Native language programs are perceived as an “add-on” which is not considered an important part of the child’s total learning.

The lack of interaction opportunities for specialist teaching in northern and rural schools have been identified as a thorny issue facing schools in these environments (Duncan, 2000; Nadolny, 1999). The absence of an interactive learning process is a deleterious factor in learning and retaining the Native language, as it is not integrated with other school curricula. There are also situations where Native language teachers have other assignments; hence, Native language teaching takes a back seat to the other assignments which have priority over Native language programs. If Native language teachers can be given the opportunity to advance their knowledge of their own language, be given support for ongoing instructional training, and be recognized as a professional, then their academic place and valued duties within an educational institution will be greatly enhanced; and so will be their teaching.

Condition 4: Creative Use of “Standard” and Existing Programs

Some Native language programs which have been developed by individuals and interested groups are a reference source for teachers and other users of the language. When Native language teachers are desperate for materials and teaching ideas, they tend to use these programs exclusively with no modifications or in content or delivery to make them effective. It becomes a situation where the availability of material dictates the content of the program, which is not based on the needs of the students.

For example, most curricula that are produced are targeted at non-speakers, but no consideration is given to students who may be partial or fluent speakers of the language. A statement frequently made, especially by parents with reference to Native language programs, is that students should be learning how to use the language, not just learning words in isolation. It is true that many students are learning vocabulary in a vacuum with no application or synthesis of what is being learned.

Teaching a Native language, as stated before, is more complicated and more involved than it may be perceived. Vygotsky (1978) argued that learning language is a social act between the individual and the outer world. The interaction of the child with concepts from the outer world provides a scaffolding framework for the child’s growth and conceptual understanding through a process of constructivism. Fosnot (1996), for example, claims that we humans constantly remake our version of reality through such constructivist interactions. Wittgenstein (1968) suggests that to get to the meaning of any language we must get to the meaning of the concept as expressed in that language.

  • Based on personal involvement in Native language teaching both in isolated northern communities, as well as in urban settings, the following observations have been made. First, teachers follow some of the above mentioned standard language programs which they find inadequate because these materials are often hastily assembled.
  • Second, teachers make up their own program based on vocabulary that they feel is appropriate for various groups of students. The problem with the latter approach is that the lessons never go beyond reading and writing of vocabulary items on work sheets. There is limited conversation and some oral or interactive exercises based on the vocabulary. Creative use and application of vocabulary is a necessary ingredient for a successful Native language program. There is a need to teach meaningful content in the target language at the same time as language skills are developed (Oxford, 1993).
  • Third, a few teachers create their own materials based on what is being taught in the regular academic program. Few Native language teachers, however, collaborate with regular classroom teachers to find out what is actually being taught in the regular academic program and then use this information to create the content for the Native language program. Such an approach can create a situation where scientific and social concepts being taught to the students in the regular program are reinforced by the Native language program, an important pedagogic strategy that has been proven effective. It is a given, yet it is rarely used in Native language teaching. Imagine the reinforcement and credibility for both programs if teachers could cooperatively plan and teach (Borich, 1998). This team teaching approach can be beneficial to the fluent and partial speakers of the language. A positive attitude would hopefully be created if such an arrangement can be made. It would motivate and challenge students, reinforce what is being taught by the regular classroom teacher and necessitate ongoing cooperation and dialogue between the two teachers.

Condition 5: The Need for Language and Differentiated Learning

One would think that learning to speak a language would require the learner, especially if that learner is a child, to be involved in oral and interactive activities with a limited amount of reading and writing. Wittgenstein (1968) suggests that understanding language can be enhanced through the construction of language games in various contexts. These games can become systems of communication that enhance language learning.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality in the classroom. Many of the Native language classes are dominated by students doing worksheets that often don’t reflect the needs of the students. There is seldom any variety in the type of activities that are required by students who are learning to speak a language. For example, there is seldom any singing, which is one of the most effective ways of teaching a second language, especially with younger children. The type of classroom activity should be determined by the needs of the students, not by the availability of material. Classroom activity which is dominated by writing is fine, if one has older students who are fluent speakers, and if they prefer this type of assignment. Such a strategy would hopefully enrich students’ scientific and social knowledge.

Native language teachers, like many of us who are products of a passive system of education, are perhaps conditioned to learning and teaching everything through reading and writing. The creation of audio and visual media, such as tapes and videos, can be achieved with appropriate selection of human, technical and computer resources which will produce a variety of interactive materials to assist teachers. Variety in teaching techniques with ongoing professional development will greatly enhance Native language programs.

Condition 6: The Need for Collective Language Survival Strategies

All teachers in any school where there are Native children should have an interest in the Native language. Language teaching should not be left as the sole purview of the Native language teacher. Too often, Native language teaching is perceived as something that is being done at the expense of the English language. This needless fear by many stakeholders in the education system needs to be removed through demonstration of creative holistic teaching which will include Native language programs. Many people have this fear because of the haphazard manner in which Native programming has been addressed. Curriculum developers of Native language programs cannot be held responsible for the inadequacies of Native language programs. They are likely just as naïve and ill-informed as some of the teachers who may be independently and diligently working in their own classrooms providing a Native language program.

Proper training for effective Native language teaching is needed. When proper training is provided, Native language instruction will reinforce not only the concepts that are being taught in school, but also the learner’s English language development. Until there is adequate training, Native language programs in the schools will continue to struggle to have credibility and usefulness. The majority of Native language teachers are justifiably unhappy teaching Native language programs because of the lack of reward; but more importantly, they perceive themselves as fighting a losing battle.

A few years ago a supportive suggestion was made to some schools that were teaching Native language programs. One of these suggestions was to have a Native language word announced (after regular announcements) as the Native language word for the day to be learned by all people in the school, with hope that it would provide moral support to the program. Only one school out of twelve followed up on the suggestion. The school that did follow the suggestion stated “we had fun” because all people were involved and “everybody had fun.” Perhaps a school should one day send home memos in the Native language only. One can imagine the reactions this might create! Parents need to be supportive of Native language programs and to know how an adequate Native language program will add to a child’s total learning process.

There have been a few cases where parents requested that their children be removed from the Native language classes with no reason provided. Presumably, the reason for these removals was that same fear echoed by other stakeholders. It is assumed that second language instruction would delay the learning and use of the English language. Cognitive development of students is greatly enhanced through appropriate teaching methods that include the use of a learner’s language(s) (Ramirez, 1991). The time has come to cease separating the language as a separate entity in a child’s learning.

It may be possible that some parents do recognize the inadequate delivery of Native language programs and, therefore, have little confidence in them. Heritage language grants, which initially excluded Native languages, are available to most provincial school divisions, but these funds generally become part of general revenue and the amount spent on language is never accountable. The amount, if any at all, that may be appropriated to schools would be difficult to know since most finances to schools become general revenue. If any funds are specifically designed for Native language development, they should be spent solely on those programs with certain short-term and long-term goals stated by those who understand the nature and needs of such programs.

Community and political Native leaders need to be role models in the use and preservation of Native languages. They, too, need to know not only the importance of the status of Native languages, but, more significantly, their leadership role in creating conditions that need to exist before success can be achieved. It would be interesting to survey each Native community and discover how many conduct public meetings in the local language. (Some do, but probably far more do not.) It would even be more interesting to survey Native organizations and find how many–if any at all–of their conferences are conducted in the Native language.

A number of years ago in a Manitoba provincial conference with the theme of preservation of Native languages, it was rather amusing to note that not a single word was uttered in either of the two predominant Native languages in the province throughout the entire session. The conference was conducted entirely in English. As Fishman (1996) so sarcastically states, “it will take more than conferences to keep most American Indian languages from becoming extinct” (p.1).

Native communications networks, whether they are local, regional or national, should strive to be proper role models in producing qualified broadcasters who are equally fluent in the Native languages and English. They can be the best ambassadors of Native languages by promoting the languages through proper everyday conversations, and by creating interesting, intelligent programs which provide variety in content. The recent creation of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is an excellent opportunity to promote quality in the use of Native languages in schools and communities.

Why does it appear that there is a cynical attitude about teaching Native languages among Native people? Perhaps we need to accept the fact that we may be consciously or unconsciously fostering an attitude from the age of “linguicide” (Bear Nicholas, 1997). Are we looking at past failures of the education systems and assuming that our present systems will fail as well, and therefore, there is no use in trying? The answer to these questions is complicated and goes back to the imperialist era of control and subjugation. Gramsci (1971), for example, discusses how “ideological hegemony” molds every thought and action of the oppressed. Socialist reproductionist theorists have made similar observations (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Freire, 1970; Giroux, 1981; 1997). Bakhtin (1984), a radical pedagogist, views languages as a social and political act. He emphasized the need to understand interclass struggle over language as a moral and epistemological imperative. Bernstein (1982) frankly views such arguments from the perspective of class reproduction.

Symptoms of Language Loss

It might appear at first glance that language loss is a simple matter: one generation speaks the language, the next generation does not. Such a striking phenomenon, known in linguistic jargon as “language tip” does occur (Craig, 1997, p. 259); it has been observed, for instance, at Pukatawagan (Castel & Westfall, 2000). However, before the “tip” occurs many other symptoms are usually discernible: children speak the language rarely, vocabulary shrinks, and new words are rarely created (Nettle & Romaine, 2000). Linguists maintain that it is not yet possible to create a comprehensive model of language loss because of the complexity of the issue and because of insufficient data (Grenoble 1998). Nevertheless, some of the factors involved in language loss are well-known.

Causes of Language Loss

The initial causes of language loss have nothing to do with language itself. All languages are intrinsically capable of full expression, given the chance to evolve to meet the needs of the society using them. In their world-wide studies of vanishing languages, linguists, ecologists and sociologists have traced the problem first to environmental distress: the loss of biodiversity also means loss of languages within a given ecosystem. Loss of resources control to outsiders is a cause of language loss. When habitat is destroyed or severely damaged, the speakers of a minority language tend to scatter and merge with outside societies, losing the ancestral language in the assimilation process. It is not a new phenomenon, but it is accelerating. Disruption of the traditional local economy and its replacement by an alien system also contributes to language loss (Nettle & Romaine, 2000).

Another cause of language loss is the well-known persecution of speakers of minority languages. Sometimes the persecution backfires, however; Welsh managed to survive centuries of persecution by speakers of English. In North America, though, several generations of Aboriginal children were coerced into abandoning their ancestral language, literally taken captive and refused ongoing contact with their family during their stay at residential schools far from home (Nettle & Romaine, 2000).

Loss of prestige is also a cause of language loss. This factor has its roots in late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century nationalism, which was accompanied by an intolerance of minority languages. Monolingualism, though seen as a virtue only by monolinguals at first, became dogma. The sordid history of monolingual ideology notwithstanding, the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism are many–and they are well-documented (García, 1997)—but they have been ignored by uninformed monolingual politicians and educators alike. The anti-Aboriginal language bias is especially virulent. Frequently, campaigns were waged in state and church-operated schools against the minority languages, which were accused of being the carriers of ignorance and superstition (Dorian, 1998). Aboriginal languages have even been accused of being demonic (Dauenhauer & Dauenhauer, 1998).

Fear and shame were the weapons of indoctrination in those institutions. Thus, children were indoctrinated against their own language and culture, with many soon subscribing to the majority view. However, they did so, too, as an effort to “better themselves” economically. So, languages are often abandoned when their speakers no longer see any social or economic advantage in their use. Today, dominant-language popular culture and economics work by a process of exclusion against the maintenance of Native languages. The impoverishment of the Native language is usually accompanied by—in part caused by—the use of a European language-only curriculum in the schools and the exclusive use of a dominant language in governmental services, as well as in most workplaces (Nettle & Romaine, 2000). The minority language and culture are marginalized, effectively excluded from the larger spheres of politics and economy.

Minority group marginalization is a basic obvious cause of language loss. The classic generational pattern is apparent as parents stop speaking the Native language exclusively with their children, who in turn almost never use it themselves (Nettle & Romaine, 2000). It is clear that those children will not be able to pass the ancestral language on to their children. Within three generations the language is effectively extinct, or it is relegated to museum status—an academic curiosity taught as a treasured relic in the schools, if it is taught at all.


Basic remedies suggested by researchers in education, linguistics, politics and sociology include the following:

  • the preservation of local ecosystems through empowerment of the indigenous populations,
  • the recognition of the value of biolinguistic diversity,
  • the replacement of the outdated and pernicious ideology of monolingualism by pride in bilingualism,
  • devolution of the academic curriculum to the local level,
  • support and encouragement for intergenerational transmission of ancestral languages, and—finally—
  • schooling in the Native languages.

It is never so late that nothing can be done. Governments should have a tolerant language policy, but they should not meddle. The job, in the final analysis, has to be done by the speakers of the Native languages themselves (Dauenhauer & Dauenhauer, 1998, p. 60, 97; Freeman & Freeman, 1998, pp. 192-197; Grinevald, 1998, p. 152; Hale, 1998, pp. 213-214). The school alone cannot rejuvenate Native languages. In addition, relying on institutions to revive and maintain Native languages will require vernacularization, a process described by Fishman (1996) as societal change. Fishman notes that “more than language is involved” (p. 60).

The success of Native language programs will need the support of the community, its leaders and the public in general. Giroux (1997) points out that “community voice” is important for assuming control. There is need for the general public to be educated about the status of Native languages, and what teaching Native languages entails. It is unfortunate, with the exception of a few Native language teachers, that most teachers are very unhappy teaching the Native language programs. A teacher asked a few years ago, “Why do I have to teach this Goddamned Cree?” While a teacher may have some legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction and frustration, negative attitudes such as that will do little to promote and preserve Native languages. It is difficult to find teachers who are teaching Native language because of preference. Many Native language speakers are becoming instructors of the Native language simply because they have been requested to do so. Creating some of the conditions and structures of support mentioned above will likely attract many more Native language teachers to this very important task. Only then can a teacher feel more secure and energetic as a Native language teacher.


In summary, the need to teach, restore, promote and protect a Native language is more complex than is usually perceived. It is a process that will require all stakeholders to understand this issue and decide how to address it. There is a desperate need to discover alternatives that can be deployed to create favorable conditions for the survival of Native language programs. There is a need to discover how to utilize technology. There is a need to discover the persons with a genuine interest in Native language who want to improve their skills and expand their knowledge in order to become effective teachers and to give them much needed support. It is time Native language teaching became the “fad” in order to make Aboriginal schools effective schools, schools where Aboriginal children and parents can feel at home, where they take pride in institutions that prepare Aboriginal students for a global, multilingual and multicultural environment.


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About Arden Ogg

Arden Ogg is Director of the Cree Literacy Network, launched in 2010 with the goal of creating Cree language literacy materials suitable for use by learners of all ages.
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4 Responses to Native Language Programs: What they Need

  1. Marilyn says:

    I write Cree songs for beginner Cree speakers.

    • Arden Ogg says:

      Thanks for your note Marilyn, Would you like to send one or two to add to the collection? Click on the contact link, and send me an email!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Schools need to hire more aboriginals in general. I’ve noticed aborigianl teachera are very scarce in public schools where I’ve been, which are mostly non-aboriginal dominated. Go figure. Here in Meadow Lake, they start Cree in grade 4, while French is taught starting from the very early years. Go figure.

  3. Marilyn says:

    Is there any way we could talk rather than email? This is a bit complicated. Some of my songs use copywrite melodies. I’d like to know what you have in mind for this material and more about how it will be used and accredited. I wrote these songs for a university Cree class I took. As with all intellectual property, I would like to retain the copyright on it. How do you want to receive them…lyrics only? I play piano and many other instruments and enjoy singing. It would be nice to have a collaborator to fix any grammatical or pronunciation glitches that could be present. They are definitely very usuable songs and fun, fun, fun…. 🙂

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