U of C partners to preserve Tsuu T'ina language

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The Tsuu T'ina Gunaha Institute, in cooperation with the University of Calgary, announced plans to work together to preserve the Tsuu T'ina language Jan. 7. The aboriginal language is on the verge of going extinct. With 2,000 band members at the reserve, only about 50 people are able to speak the language fluently-- most of them elders.

The Tsuu T'ina Gunaha Institute was officially established October 2008, though members of the band have been teaching the Tsuu T'ina language since 1972. The new collaboration with the university was created by the faculty of education through a program that engages the university to become more involved with community groups.

The U of C is providing courses for people to learn Tsuu T'ina. The goal is to train people to become teachers of the Tsuu T'ina language so that they will be able to reach out to future generations and pass on the language.

Tsuu T'ina Gunaha Institute coordinator Emil Starlight explained that the aim of the program is to record native speakers and pass on the language by teaching English speakers through linguistic principles: phonology, tone, morphemes and verb semantics.

"When they see how it is going about the language, it will pique interest," said Starlight. "The use of linguistics in the Tsuu T'ina language is what got me interested in learning and wanting to learn more."

U of C linguistics professor Darin Flynn specializes in linguistics revitalization and is involved in teaching the courses alongside Shelleyann Scott from the faculty of education.

"It's a four-course program that focuses on people who really want to learn the language and that's what I handle," said Flynn. "The other two courses will be handled by Shelleyann Scott who specializes in effective teaching methodology-- what works well in the classroom."

"From her, they learn from trying to have more effective language revitalization programs in the classroom. My focus is on them trying to learn the language without having a classroom environment. I prefer if they just talked to their elders in naturalistic environments to pick up the language outside of the classrooms," Flynn continued.

Flynn claimed the Tsuu T'ina language is the most endangered native language in Alberta, along with another aboriginal language called Beaver. Flynn also mentioned there are many native languages such as Cree, Chilcotin and Blackfoot that still remain healthy because many children in the communities continue to speak the tongue.

Native Centre director Shawna Cunningham thought the initiative to revitalize and instruct the Tsuu T'ina language is a very positive movement for both the U of C and the Tsuu T'ina community.

"How we think and the language that we think in defines the world around us, so I think it is imperative that languages are preserved," said Cunningham.

First-year open studies student Rosanna Bigplume said she spoke the Tsuu T'ina language when she was younger, but stopped because of the dispute between the dialects. She is definitely interested in learning the language in the program that is offered now.

"I really think it is about time because we have such a close connection to the city itself. And there are a lot of Tsuu T'ina members who would gain from this. It is definitely positive," said Bigplume.

There are 23 students enrolled in the program. Initially there were only 20 spots available, but interest in the course was higher than anticipated.

"Originally we didn't think there would be so many. But as soon as word got out into the reserve, people were excited to get involved," said Starlight.

The Tsuu T'ina Gunaha Institute welcomes anyone and everyone to participate in learning the Tsuu T'ina language.