By Devon Shewchuk
Corey Whitfield became one of the first people to teach an Indigenous language course at Red River College after his first class began on April 14.
Whitfield is a teaching assistant for the Anishinaabemowin Language and Culture Level Two course offered by Red River College.
“I’m Anishinaabe. I’m Indigenous. It’s really important to be a person of the language, and that’s what motivates me to be an instructor and continue the language. I want to develop a teaching style that includes pre-existing resources, like history books and teaching guides, and then add my own fluency and experiences to that,” says Whitfield.
This class (and its Level One prerequisite) are the first of their kind at Red River College. The courses are designed for K-12 educators in the province, or anyone with an interest in learning more about Manitoba’s traditional Anishinaabemowin languages, culture, and history.
Rebecca Chartrand, RRC’s Executive Director of Indigenous Strategy, says the courses were created to help support the growth of Indigenous language revitalization in Manitoba’s schools and advance reconciliation efforts in the province.
Chartrand says her department found instructors such as Whitfield, who grew up speaking
Anishinaabemowin at home, through her department’s strong ties with the Indigenous community.
“We responded to a need by the community to fill in a gap. This course provides opportunities for educators in the province to learn to speak, read, and write in Manitoba’s traditional Anishinaabemowin languages,” said Chartrand.
For each course, students are in the classroom twice a week for eight hours each week (a five-hour class on Saturday and three-hour class Monday evening).
Whitfield says the most important part about these courses will be building a bridge between the western style of teaching in a modern classroom setting, while maintaining the authenticity and integrity of these traditional languages and oral teaching styles.
“You need to take a person, measure their fluency of the language, and have them teach it in a modern classroom, but still have them teach it in the way they grew up learning it,” says Whitfield.
In the Level One Anishinaabemowin Language and Culture class, Chartrand said 21 students completed the course.
These courses have so far been successful and will continue to be offered by the college, as they provide educators in Manitoba with a deeper knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture and language history.