News / Calgary

University of Calgary’s first Stoney Nakoda language class attracts mostly non-indigenous students

A co-instructor says he is happy there is so much interest in the course, which started in January

Wyatt Anton, a student in the class, holds a print-out of the Stoney Nakoda word for 'Calgary' at the University of Calgary's Native Centre.

Elizabeth Cameron/For Metro

Wyatt Anton, a student in the class, holds a print-out of the Stoney Nakoda word for 'Calgary' at the University of Calgary's Native Centre.

The co-instructor of a new Stoney Nakoda language course at the University of Calgary said he was surprised most of the 25 students who signed up for the class are not indigenous.

Trevor Fox, a doctoral student at U of C and co-instructor of Indigenous Language 205 - Stoney Nakoda, said he welcomes them into his classroom. 

“I’m just happy they’re interested,” said Fox, who is from the Wesley Band of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. 

The class was offered for the first time this semester.

Fourth-year international indigenous studies student Sherri Smithson said as a non-indigenous person, the class has been an eye-opening experience about Canada’s less-than-glamorous history with First Nations.

“It gives you a whole new respect and understanding about these cultures that lived here before and continue to live with us now,” Smithson said.

Fox said he has focused his linguistic lessons on the history and culture of the Stoney Nakoda (Îyârhe Nakoda) people, many of whom live in southern Alberta.

“Our language and culture is tied to the land. If students want to learn our language, then they also need to understand the knowledge behind it … and why our language is at risk,” Fox said.

He estimates approximately 1,500 people speak Stoney Nakoda in North America, and most of them are age 35 or older.

Wyatt Anton and Sherri Smithson study for their Indigenous Language 205 - Stoney Nakoda course at the University of Calgary's Native Centre.

Elizabeth Cameron/For Metro

Wyatt Anton and Sherri Smithson study for their Indigenous Language 205 - Stoney Nakoda course at the University of Calgary's Native Centre.

Students in Canadian residential schools were prohibited from speaking their native languages or practicing their culture, leaving generations of indigenous children with no knowledge of their own people, according to Fox.

“This has really affected the survival of aboriginal languages – there aren’t too many fluent speakers,” he said.

Wyatt Anton is in the second year of his thesis at U of C, which, in part, examines how traditional knowledge from the Treaty 7 nations can be transmitted and preserved for the future. 

As a result, he spends a lot of time on the Morley reserve, located west of Cochrane, and said learning the Stoney language has given him a deeper understanding of the people who speak it.

“There’s a commonality that exists now that didn’t before,” Anton said. “When you’re trying to communicate through a language you become much more aware of the circumstances of the native speakers.”

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