July 31, 2011

First Nations, Métis and Inuit People of Canada

While in Canada I have had the opportunity to learn about the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Canada. People I have learned from include:
  • Prof May Bernhardt who teaches a course at the University of British Columbia about working with First Nations people,
  • Heather Campbell who is undertaking research about bi-dialectal First Nations speakers, and
  • Deanne Zeidler who has worked as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) with the First Nations people north of Vancouver for 17 years. Deanne has co-authored a family program called Talk, Learn, and Grow.  She has also uses the Moe the Mouse phonological awareness program. She is going to co-present a 1 hour session on her work at the American Speech-Language-Hearing convention in November.
One important thing that I have learned is that individualised assessment often is not appropriate when working with First Nations people. Talking with the community about their dreams for the future (for the whole community including its children) is the most important place to start. Standardized testing is not relevant, so many SLPs ask parents and teachers to talk to the children so that language samples can be elicited, then discussed together. Some have suggested that amongst First Nations people, disability is accommodated, so there is not as much urgency about speech and language difficulties as there is within English-speaking contexts.
Prof Joe Stemberger, Prof May Bernhardt, and Sharynne
with the totem poles from different nations in Stanley Park, Vancouver
Inukshuk at Whistler (a wonderfully scenic location;
however, inukshuks are normally found amongst Inuit people in the Artic Circle)
First Nations Cultural Centre at Whistler
There are 16 dialects of the Coast Salish family. Two dialects are Squamish and Lil'wat. At Whistler, the Squamish and Lilwat Nations have cooperated and open Cultural Centre providing artefacts and narrative about the two Nations. I found this quote to be very powerful in the context of maintaining these languages, and ensuring that First Nations children continue to learn them:
"Without our language there is no culture; without our culture there is no language" Johnny S. Abraham, Lil'wat Nation.
Deanne Zeidler and Sharynne near Lilooet (home of Lil'wat people)