Transformative Impacts of Language Reclamation on Well-being: Healing and Growing

Shaw, Patricia A.
Campbell, Jill
Grant, Elder Larry
Campbell, Fiona
Campbell, Vanessa
Point, Marny
Point, Grace
Shaw, Patricia A.
Campbell, Jill
Grant, Elder Larry
Campbell, Fiona
Campbell, Vanessa
Point, Marny
Point, Grace
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Well-being in mind, in body, and in spirit is intimately connected to our sense of self, of place, and of purpose. The devastating impact of Indigenous language loss on individuals and communities, on cultures and societies, and on our collective global knowledge bases and ecological sustainability has been documented from multiple perspectives in diverse contexts around the globe. Less well documented, however, are the deeply transformative impacts of endangered language reclamation on enhancing the well-being and self-esteem of old and young, on nurturing intergenerational healing within families and communities, on contributing to the decolonization of minds, histories, and place in our global society, and on fostering a much better informed, respectful, inclusive environment for our collective well-being. Our presentation draws from the cumulative experiences of a 20 year collaboration between a post-secondary institution and an Aboriginal community whose “language health” has undergone extremely challenging shifts over this period of time - from the loss of the last few fluent first-language speakers, through sharply divided and divisive opinions about the value of reclamation, complicated by uncertainties and disagreements as to the true identity and defining characteristics of the language/dialect to be revitalized, countered by building community-based capacity in language documentation, conservation, and archival skills, which contributed to consensus- building in setting goals and in charting a diversity of inclusive pathways that could nurture a safe journey from deeply suppressed transgenerational legacies of residential school trauma to an increasingly extensive recovery of the linguistic and cultural heritage that was their ancestral birthright, and that has now become a foundation for holistic well-being of individuals connected to family and community, responsible to their protocols, their cultural ways of being, and their teachings that revolve around language and culture. The core initial context for language learning are university classes, hosted in the community, open to everyone. Aboriginal students learn with immense pride about the world-renowned linguistic complexities of their language, and develop a collective sense of identity about their history and culture, enhancing positive self-esteem. Being engaged in a successful educational experience encourages many to pursue more. The revitalized language resonates healthy living through sport (children’s skipping chants, secret strategies called out on the soccer field); through music (songs in the pre-school, a youth guitar group translating John Denver); through visible signage (street signs, mandala banners); through parents reading and laughing with their kids, reigniting the archetypal mode of intergenerational transfer of oral traditions.
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