INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES AND CULTURES

This training session is intended for Indigenous families, and anyone interested in better understanding the language development of children from these backgrounds. Discover how much their rich linguistic and cultural backgrounds contributes to their development. You will also learn how bilingualism or multilingualism can influence communication and learning. Lastly, you will understand the importance of keeping an eye on children’s language development, while considering cultural differences, to spot any difficulties and intervene early.

My Language, My Roots

Deepen your thinking based on your personal situation:

– Based on my own values and cultural background, which languages are important for me for my child to learn?
– How can I strengthen/value this language or these languages every day?
– Who are my allies when it comes to stimulating my child’s language in different contexts (e.g., family environment, daycare or school, neighbourhood/community)?

Welcoming the Child

Integrating into a new environment and learning a second language can cause a culture shock for Indigenous children. Look at the document below for some tips on how to help children’s integration in this type of situation.

Download the document

Learning Multiple Languages

Depending on the type of bilingualism that best applies to the child, which stage best represents how my child communicates most of the time?

ο The child tries to express themself in their primary language, because they have not yet mastered the second one.

ο The child listens to others but remains silent because they are not yet comfortable expressing themself in the second language.

ο The child does not differentiate between the two languages, hence uses the first words that come to mind, regardless of the language.

ο The child begins to differentiate between the two languages and understands that the same object is named differently in each language.

ο The child chooses to use one language rather than the other depending on the situation or the person to whom they are talking to (ex: English in daycare, Cree at home).

ο The child expresses themself mostly in one language, even if they are proficient in both (primary vs. second language).

ο The child tries to express themself in their primary language, because they have not yet mastered the second one.

ο The child listens to others but remains silent because they are not yet comfortable expressing themself in the second language.

ο The child uses simple words from the second language or memorized expressions.

ο The child understands well and is beginning to converse in the second language.

ο The child can communicate easily in both languages, although they may sometimes mix them up.

Developing Language

– What resources are available in my community to support children’s language development?
– Where can I find them?

The Language Development Screening Tool

Suggestion: Fill in the grid corresponding to the child’s age to get an idea of the expected language skills.

Download the Screening Tool

These grids were originally designed for unilingual, English-speaking children. It may not be suitable for children with different cultural backgrounds or who are learning several languages.

Little is known about the typical language development of Indigenous children. Data shows that some Indigenous children could be six months behind what is expected in this English Language Development Screening Tool. This gap could be linked to Indigenous learning styles/methods and the specificities of some Indigenous languages. However, it should be resolved by school age.
To give the child the best chance, do not wait to consult a specialist or intervene if you are worried. A speech therapist will discuss with parents/guardians and members of the community to make appropriate recommendations.

Note: If there are types of body language or gestures that are not appropriate for your language/culture, it would be preferable to not consider them (e.g., eye contact).

For bilingual children, you can check whether the child is doing what is expected for their age in at least one language. When determining the number of words used by the child, add up the words that they use in all the languages they speak.

Note: If there are types of body language or gestures that are not appropriate for your language/culture, it would be preferable to not consider them (e.g., eye contact).

Interactive Activities

Explore the activities below to share elements of your culture while stimulating children’s language and having fun!

Listen to the nursery rhyme Kuei
(innu-aimun language)

Indigenous Languages in Quebec

Of the 11 languages of the Indigenous Peoples in Quebec, two are practically no longer spoken, but are being revitalized: Wendat and Wolastoqey latuwewakon (Maliseet). Aln8ba8dawaw8gan (Abenaki) is in a critical situation, while three other languages are endangered: Kanien’Kehà:Ka (Mohawk), Mi’kmawi’simk and Anishnaabemowin (Algonquin). The other five – Innu-aimun, Atikamekw nehirowimowin, Iiyiyuu ayimuun (Cree), Iyuw iyimuun (Naskapi) and Inuktitut – are better preserved.

Let’s value Indigenous languages,

to preserve this precious cultural heritage!

Sources : Drapeau Lynn, Les langues autochtones du Québec : état des lieux et propositions pour l’action. Beaulieu Alain, Les Autochtones et le Québec : Des premiers contacts au Plan Nord.

Did you know?

The name “Canada” comes from the Wendat language, a deformation of “kanatha”, meaning “city” or “village”.

The name “Québec” is borrowed from an Algonquian language: “kebec” means “narrowing, narrow passage”, referring to the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River. It is also said to be related to the Mi’kmaq word “gepe’g”, meaning “blocked”.

Learn more about all Quebec’s Indigenous nations…

The Abenakis


Population and Territory
Odanak and Wôlinak, the two Abenaki communities in Quebec, are found on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River, near Trois-Rivières, between Sorel and Bécancour. There are over 3,000 Abenakis in Quebec, of which at least 400 reside in Odanak and Wôlinak. Hundreds of Abenakis live outside of their communities, scattered throughout North America.

Language
Abenaki belongs to the large Algonquian linguistic and cultural family. In Quebec, Abenakis speak French, and many of them also know English. The Abenaki language is still spoken by some Elders.

The Anishinaabeg (Algonquin)


Population and Territory
Out of 12,607 Anishinaabeg, approximately 6,000 live in the 9 communities of the nation. Seven of the Algonquin communities are located in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, more precisely in Hunter’s Point, Kebaowek, Lac-Simon, Kitcisakik, Pikogan, Timiskaming, and Winneway. The other two, Lac-Rapide and Kitigan Zibi, are in the Outaouais region.

Language
Anishinaabemowin is spoken in most communities; some Elders do not know English or French. As a second language, the Anishinaabeg use English or French, and many are trilingual.

The Atikamekw


Population and Territory
The Atikamekw, numbering around 8,000, mainly inhabit Manawan, in the northern region of Lanaudière, as well as Wemotaci and Opitciwan in Haute-Mauricie.

Language
Atikamekw is spoken by the entire population, while French is used as a second language.

The Eeyou (Cree)


Population and Territory
With approximately 21,000 people, the Crees are among the most populous Indigenous nations in Quebec. The nine Cree communities are located on the shores of James Bay (Waskaganish, Eastmain, Wemindji, and Chisasibi) and Hudson Bay (Whapmagoostui), as well as inland (Nemaska, Waswanipi, Mistissini, and Oujé-Bougoumou).

Language
The entire population speaks the Cree language, while English is the second language for the majority. Many people, especially the youth, also speak French.

The Innu


Population and Territory
Seven of the nine Innu communities in Quebec are scattered along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. These are Essipit, Pessamit, Uashat-Maliotenam, Mingan, Nutashkuan, Unamen Shipu (La Romaine), and Pakuashipi. Another community, Mashteuiatsh, is located at Lac-Saint-Jean, while Matimekosh-Lac-John is next to Schefferville. The Innu nation has more than 16,000 people, making it the third most populous Indigenous nation in Quebec, after the Mohawk and Cree nations.

Language
Innu-aimun is the primary language spoken by the majority of the nation’s members, with French being their second language. Innu people from Labrador, on the other hand, speak English as their second language.

The Inuit


Population and Territory
In Quebec, the Inuit live in Nunavik, a vast territory north of the 55th parallel. The population of Nunavik – around 12,000 Inuit – is spread across 14 villages with populations ranging from 100 to 1,700. These villages, several hundred kilometers apart, are found on the shores of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay. Around 100 Inuit live in Chisasibi, a Cree village on James Bay.

Language
Inuktitut includes five main dialects in Canada: Inuvialuktun (from the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories), Inuinnaqtun (from western Nunavut), Inuktitut (from eastern Nunavut), Inuktitut (from Nunavik) and Nunatsiavumiuttut (from Nunatsiavut). Many Inuit also speak French or English, and some are trilingual.

The Kanien'kehà:ka (Mohawk)


Population and Territory
With a population of nearly 20,000, the Mohawk are Quebec’s most populous Indigenous nation. They are grouped into three communities: Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanesatake.  

Language
The Mohawk usual language is English. Many speak Kanien’kehà (Mohawk), and an increasing number speak French.

The Mi'kmaq


Population and Territory
Quebec is home to over 5,000 Mi’kmaq, divided into three groups. In Gaspésie, the Listuguj community has a territory at the mouth of the Ristigouche River, while the Gesgapegiag community has one at the mouth of the Cascapédia River, near the municipality of Maria. As for the 510 or so Mi’kmaq who make up the Gespeg Band, they have no reserve territory and live mainly in Gaspé and Montreal.

Language
Mi’kmawi’simk is taught at school and spoken by many members of the Listuguj and Gesgapegiag communities. English is the second language. The Mi’kmaq of Gespeg speak mainly French, and more and more young people are fluent in both French and English.

The Naskapi


Population and Territory
The Naskapi nation numbers around 1,450 people, over 930 of whom live in Quebec’s only Naskapi village, Kawawachikamach, located in northern Quebec, about 15km from Schefferville.

Language 
Naskapi is spoken by the entire population, with English as a second language.

The Wendat


Population and Territory
The Wendat nation is one of the most urbanized nations in Quebec. Their only community, Wendake, is next to Quebec City. Some 1,500 people live there.

Language
They speak French. The Wendat language is considered extinct, but research is underway to ensure its revitalization.

The Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet)


Population and Territory 
Some 780 Wolastoqiyik live in Quebec. They are not grouped into communities, but live scattered across the territory. The Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation has a reserve territory, designated Kataskomiq, located in Whitworth Township, near Rivière-du-Loup, and a small lot in Cacouna.

Language 
The Maliseet living in Quebec speak French, and many also speak English. Wolastoq is still spoken by some in Maine (USA) and New-Brunswick.

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