Ningewance stands with a painting she did of her grandma,
who was the inspiration behind her book, Talking Gookum's
Language. (Stephanie Cram)
Reclaiming your traditional tongue is not as hard as you might
think, according to Ojibwe language teacher Patricia Ningewance.
She encourages everyone to give it a shot, no matter what your age.
Ningewance, from Lac Seul First Nation, Ont., said for indigenous
people, it is also critical to keep the languages alive.
"People my age I'm in my 60s now have stopped
passing on the language," she said.
"We are proud of our language. We speak it to one another, but
we haven't passed it on. It gets stuck in your throat and you can't
speak to your children."
Memories of residential school, where students faced punishment
for speaking their own language, continue to scar older generations,
making it difficult for them to teach their children.
Ningewance has published phrase books in Ojibwe, Swampy Cree,
Inuktitut and Oji-Cree.
The books will help with the learning process, but here are
a few key points to remember when diving into a new language.
1. Keep it fun
Ningewance remembers teaching a group of doctors how to speak
"The first thing they wanted to learn was [the names for] body
parts and descriptions of body parts," said Ningewance. "They were
insulting each other, saying the craziest things, obscene things."
Ojicree is Ningewance's newest book. She worked with translator
Jerry Sawanas from Sioux Lookout, Ont. (Stephanie Cram)
The pocket books were designed to keep learning fun including
an insult section.
Ningewance insists the words in the insult section are for reference
only, so you can recognize whether people are speaking ill of you.
"But of course if you want to say them, use them," said Ningewance.
One insult unique to indigenous people is to call someone an
"To tell someone they think highly of themselves is a huge insult,"
said Ningewance. "That's because in the native world, humility is
2. Learning from your elders
The best way to learn a language is to seek help from an elder
or a friend who is already fluent.
Ningewance's grandma was the main inspiration behind her love
of language an inspiration so strong that a painting of her
grandmother was included on the cover of her book Talking Gookom's
Gookom's Language is one of Ningewance's most popular books.
(Mazinaate Inc. )
"She played language games with us like riddles. She had a playful
spirit," said Ningewance. "She encouraged us to use our imagination."
The tradition of passing her language on continues with her
grandson, Aandeg Muldrew. When Ningewance first started to teach
her grandson, they met in restaurants to have simple conversations,
or drove around while speaking Ojibwe.
"I would describe actions around us, what people are doing,
what cars are doing, what the weather is like," said Ningewance.
"Eventually I began asking him to describe what he saw, using whatever
vocabulary he knew."
3. Believe you can do it
"Students come to class and they're afraid to learn, because
they think it's a huge mountain they have to climb," said Ningewance.
"What I try to do with my books is demystify the language and make
it easy to learn step by step."
A good place to start when learning a language are phrases you
will need to strike up a conversation. For example, 'What's your
name?' and 'Where are you from?' are two phrases Ningewance usually
uses to start a beginner class. Other easy starting points are learning
nouns, numbers and colours.
In as short as three weeks, Ningewance has seen non-fluent students
flourish in Ojibwe. With dedication and hard work, Ningewance believes
it is possible to pick up any language.
Ningewance has published pocket phrase books in Cree, Oji-Cree,
Inuktitut and Ojibwe. (Patricia Ningewance )