The Search for Wellness through Ancestral Languages

National Research Study

In January of 2021, the Supporting Indigenous Language Revitalization (SILR) research team was formed to carry out a systematic literature review designed to ask:

“What is the relationship for Indigenous people in Canada between the knowledge and use of their traditional languages and their individual and communal well-being?”

The Supporting Indigenous Language Revitalization project is led by the Office of the Vice Provost Indigenous Programming and Research, University of Alberta.

Searching Team

Research Team

With guidance from the SILR Advisory Council, the research team transcended the research process from a standard systematic literature review to a searching process based on orality to foster a fundamental element in speaking one’s own Ancestral language(s).

Photos of Davina Russell, Crystal Wood, Sherryl Sewepagaham, Joline Bull, and Vevalee Georges
Photos of Doreen Daychief, Mary Cardinal Collins, Elmer Ghostkeeper, and Molly Chisaakay

Advisory Council

Dr. Elmer Ghostkeeper suggested not using the word ‘research’ because of the many past and recurring negative experiences of Indigenous peoples with research and to more accurately reflect that we are taking part in a searching process not re-searching.

Our Journey

Indigenous Methodology: Rising Above Colonialism

Artwork

The process evolved to include an Indigenous methodology with the use of artwork. After every visiting an art sketch was designed by the team members that encompassed key learnings, phrases, and themes.

No English Words

During the early stages of the searching process, Elder Elmer Ghostkeeper, asked the research team not to use English words or Roman Orthography to articulate the findings as the searching inquiry was based on conception of Ancestral languages, not the English language.

Pictograph

It was decided to continue using artwork and have a pictograph created for the preliminary findings. Through a series of drafting sessions with an Indigenous graphic artist, a pictograph was created. The pictograph can be found below in the Findings section

Giving Back

As a small way to give back and say thank you, we professionally edited and polished each visiting so that every participant had a copy of their visiting for their own personal use. We also created a licensing agreements with various Indigenous musicians to ensure Ancestral languages, from the participants’ land, were included in each recording through songs.

Knowledge Sharing

As a small way to give back and say thank you, we professionally edited and polished each visiting so that every participant had a copy of their visiting for their own personal use. We also created a licensing agreements with various Indigenous musicians to ensure Ancestral languages, from the participants’ land, were included in each recording through songs.

Data Sovereignty

Data Sovereignty Declaration and Care Taking Directives were developed using a generational lens to protect Indigenous research participants and the information that they shared during the searching process.

Click here to access a research participant and educational resource template (coming soon).

Findings

Videos

The Searching team was tasked with learning about the ways in which knowing and speaking one’s Ancestral Language(s) fosters wellbeing (mind, body, spirit, and emotions).

At the beginning of our searching journey, the team was advised not to use Roman Orthography or written text. Reflecting upon this guidance, we decided to use visuals and orature throughout our searching process to document and understand what was shared during each visiting with an Ancestral Language Keeper. These practices provided a more authentic way of documenting the findings that are shared in the pictograph and findings video. In total, we had the honour of visiting with Twenty-Three Ancestral Language Keepers. Each of their Ancestral Languages (Nehiyawewin, Michif, Dene Tha’, Anisnabe) are represented in the pictograph and video.

 The visual presentation of the findings as a pictograph and video intentionally moves the findings away from a predefined list and instead invites each viewer on a journey of searching and reflection that is not determinative nor prescriptive. This is important because this is about a lifelong process that does not have a particular answer, path or destination.

Overall, our hope is that the pictograph and findings video are shared widely and invites Indigenous youth, adults and Elders on a journey of connecting with and learning their Ancestral Language(s). By connecting with one’s Ancestral Language(s) a path is opened to a lifelong journey of learning, practicing and experiencing a good life (well-being – mind, body, spirit and emotions) that is interconnected with the land, ceremony, all our relations and a continual praxis of agency.

Please submit a request for access to the FINDINGS VIDEO. If you or your organization identify with one or more of the following you will be given access to the findings video: Ancestral Language Learner, Indigenous Organization, School with Indigenous Students, Ancestral Language Instructor.