McGill Anishinaabe Study Group Forms

Last spring, Nathan Ince and Jenni Makahnouk met at a seminar and discovered that they both shared an interest in learning the Anishinaabe language. Makahnouk is Anishinaabe, and Ince, a professor in McGill’s history department, wanted to learn him for his research. As a result, they are now running an Anishinaabe language study group this semester for all McGill students interested in the language. The Daily spoke with Ince, Makahnouk and Nika Paul, another student involved, to learn more about this project and why they believe it is needed at McGill.

“We both got a little closer and were like ‘hey, why don’t we learn this together,'” Makahnouk says. “I want to try to learn it to keep my language alive, and also learn more about my culture.”

Paul also pointed out that programs like this are valuable because “not all of us have the opportunity [to learn Anishinaabe] in our communities and our families because of colonization. For most of Canada’s history, federal and provincial governments have advanced colonial policies designed to suppress the use of Indigenous languages, including through the Indian Act, residential schools, and the “scoop.” 60s”.

When asked how the study group works, Makahnouk said that “there is a certain formal component in class and there isn’t necessarily homework, but it’s kind of like going at his own pace”. They welcome anyone with an interest in the language, with most attendees being beginners. However, organizers hope that with enough interest, it can grow into something bigger.

In 2017, a task force appointed by Provost Christopher Manfredi issued 52 Calls to Action related to Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education. So far, only five of those calls have been marked as “completed.” One call still ongoing is #34, which relates to “Language Revitalization and Documentation” and asks McGill to create a plan to support language revitalization in Indigenous communities. However, McGill still does not offer any Indigenous language courses, which the group hopes their initiative can change. Ince said the end goal was to turn their study group into a class.

“We would ideally like […] have a fluent Anishinaabe speaking instructor who would be able to teach their class like they teach any other language class here,” Makahnouk explained. Since McGill is located on both Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee unceded land, she would be happy to see classes in either language.

“These are the original languages ​​of the earth […] I think people are starting to realize that and I think there’s a lot of interest in people wanting to learn [the language]Makahnouk said. “We are delighted with the interest and there are tons of people who have come for their own reasons.”

Ince estimated that there are about 20 people “circling,” with 13 people showing up for a session, indicating there is interest in learning Anishinaabe within the McGill community.

McGill only offers a minor in Indigenous Studies, which was created in 2014 as a result of student activism. In its 52 calls to action, McGill has designated number 31, which calls for a strong Indigenous studies program, as “done,” despite the lack of a major program. Paul emphasized the need for more Indigenous faculty to teach these courses, as many Indigenous Studies courses at McGill are currently taught by non-Indigenous faculty.

“We are a ‘world-class’ university, we are at the top of the rankings all the time, and yet we cannot know more about the peoples who were here first, the original peoples of the earth”, Makahnouk said.

“Indigenous knowledge is world class, having a program that teaches Indigenous languages ​​is world class,” Ince said. “If you don’t teach these languages […]you’re not training people to work in archives, to understand oral histories, or to engage with knowledge at that level. He said the more people use and engage with these languages, the stronger they will become. While emphasizing the importance of settlers not appropriating Indigenous languages, he believes that “there is a responsibility to help reverse the linguistic genocide that is taking place in Canada.”

Although it is feared that there will be resistance from the administration, the group hopes that the strong interest in the project, coupled with the 52 calls to action, will convince the University to invest in this initiative and possibly make a course out of it.

“I think there will always be a little setback. It is an institution. Yes, you have to fight hard to get what you want,” Paul said. “But I feel like there are more and more people fighting for it.”

The group meets from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. every Wednesday at Ferrier 105.