Throughout these past few years, Plenty Canada has aimed to place an increasing emphasis on the promotion of Indigenous culture through education, including language revitalization. Despite colonialism, Indigenous culture of an incredibly large variety has sustained itself for centuries within Canada, and Plenty Canada would like to play a part in reminding the public of its value.
To that end, Plenty Canada is hosting a series of Anishinaabemowin (Algonquin) language courses led by a long-time partner of ours, Barry Sarazin, and his wife Jessie-Ann Sarazin. These courses are being held on Zoom from January 6th to April 5th, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Each lesson begins with singing and drum songs conducted by Barry and Jessie-Ann, followed by a prayer (usually given by Jessie). After this, the technical part of the lesson begins. Barry presents a video reminding participants of the different vowel sounds used in the language, followed by a lesson plan which includes Algonquin words along with their meaning and pronunciation, as well as common sayings relating to whatever that day's topic happens to be. True to Barry and Jessie-Ann's overall focus, there is also a ton of storytelling included in each session, from personal experiences Barry and Jessie-Ann have had to traditional Indigenous Algonquin stories.
Despite the difficulty of holding such a technical interactive course online, the program has been a tremendous success, welcoming people of all ages and backgrounds. The success is, of course, entirely due to the cultural expertise of Barry and Jessie-Ann, knowledge and skills they have honed through years of work and training.
Barry is an Algonquin elder and fluent Algonquin speaker from the Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, who has been involved in fostering cultural development for decades. All the way back in 1981, he was involved in community and economic development with the Anishinaabek First Nation. He followed this up by spending a good deal of the 90s learning songs, oral histories, and sacred teachings from traditional teachers, as well as involving himself with various other community initiatives, such as youth teaching workshops.
What's more, Jessie-Ann is also an accredited Algonquin language teacher, with a certificate from Lakehead University. She, like Barry, is quite adept at a number of different traditional art forms, such as bead and moccasin making, hide tanning, and regalia making. While Barry and Jessie-Ann dedicate a large amount of time to language training, they are also broadly interested in communicating Indigenous arts to the next generation, keeping these proud and incredibly varied traditions alive.
Fortunately for them, the program has been quite well attended so far, with over 150 people registering to participate. This is a very encouraging number, especially considering that Plenty Canada hopes to hold similar online and in-person seminars in the future. Given the success of both this program and the mini birchbark canoe making workshop last year, it seems that cultural education programs will remain a very important pillar of the organization's overall mission.
— Breton Campbell