DETTAH, N.W.T.- The federal government says it is investing $39.4 million to support Indigenous languages in the territories.
The funding is to go to communities, organizations and governments to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen the languages.
Northwest Territories member of Parliament Michael McLeod announced the funding in the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of Dettah on behalf of the minister of Canadian Heritage.
The First Nation says the funding will help it deliver language and culture classes and camps, as well as develop lesson plans, books, videos and reference documents in the Wiiliideh language.
The federal government says it has invested a total of $77.2 million to support Indigenous languages in the North since 2019.
More than 70 Indigenous languages are spoken across Canada, many of which are endangered.
Yellowknives Dene First Nations Chief Fred Sangris of Ndilo said residential schools had a dramatic impact as students were prevented from speaking their traditional language.
“We’re hanging onto our language at the very thread,” he said.
“Without language identity is lost.”
Sangris said revitalizing Wiiliideh is important, as there are few speakers left and some elders struggle with English.
“We feel that the elders are lonely because they’ve got nobody to talk to in their language, so we’re trying to fix that,” he said.
“Our vision in the future is to have vibrant languages in the communities.”
Sangris said one hurdle is that Wiiliideh is not one of the N.W.T.’s 11 official languages, nine of which are Indigenous.
McLeod, who attended residential school himself, said he understands first-hand the intergenerational impacts colonial systems have had on Indigenous languages, culture and identity.
He said the funding to support Indigenous languages is part of the federal government’s reconciliation efforts.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.
– By Emily Blake in Yellowknife
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.