Language courses will be offered to young Atikamekw and Innu Aboriginals at the Mamik Center in Saguenay so that they can continue to transmit the knowledge and culture of these communities to future generations.

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“It’s a cultural challenge. It’s a challenge to preserve our identity through language,” said Mélanie Boivin, Executive Director of the Centre.

Several activities are thus organized to achieve this objective, including a class in Atikamekw given at noon to young elementary-level children.

At nine years old, Evy Rose Awashish lives in Chicoutimi, but manages in Atikamekw. His parents speak it at home.

“When I’m at home, I speak Atikamekw. I want to learn Atikamekw”, affirmed the child, who follows his course with his ears and eyes wide open.

“The children are awakened to this culture, to the language,” remarked Mélanie Boivin.

The Mamik Center has just started these language courses for young people.

“There are a lot of families who speak Atikamekw, but they don’t necessarily make sure that the children understand all the words and that they express themselves in Atikamekw”, observed the director general. “The language is different in the city than on the territory.”

This language learning has special meaning for the Centre’s education coordinator, François Fortin.

“To discover words, the meaning of words, the origin of words. It’s really a great experience for young people. They ask for more and they want even more,” believes Mr. Fortin.

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In the case of Evy Rose, the Atikamekw will allow her to speak with her friends when she goes to see them in Obedjiwan. “My friends from Obedjiwan, they don’t understand, because I speak French. And that’s why I want to learn to speak Atikamekw.”

Language camps for adults and children or outings to the sugar shack, plenty of opportunities are created to share the language and culture.

“We want future generations to keep the indigenous languages, whether it’s the Atikamekw, whether it’s the Innu. We also have Anishinabe. We also have Crees on the territory,” added Ms. Boivin. “It’s a language that is losing knowledge because our elders are less and less present. But we want to keep this language alive.”

This effort is fundamental, according to François Fortin. “It is essential to pass on this knowledge. To maintain them. To live their culture, their heritage in the city to be able to share it in turn. They love it. They have a huge interest in that. Language activities are very much like games.”

Harry Wilde is one of those elders. At 65, he has just painted the ancestral territory, Nitassinan, on a wall at the Mamik Center precisely to teach it to young people.

“Culture is very important. Why? Because I was brought up there. I grew up in the forest. We have to show them where we come from. What we’ve been doing since then. If we don’t take care of it, it will be lost,” fears Mr. Wilde.

“We still have the chance to be able to live on this territory,” insisted Ms. Boivin. To have that wealth. So, we really have to support the opportunities to learn the language on the territory.”

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In Roberval, the education coordinator of the Center Mamik Lac-Saint-Jean, Nadia Fortin, is working to organize courses in Innu, a language even less used among young people.

“It’s the last generation, seniors who have mastered it. It’s important to pass on your knowledge to young people,” she said.

An elder from Mashteuiatsh will teach it. Nadia Fortin believes in the need to keep these languages, she who learned Atikamekw in Obedjiwan.

“It’s a nice contact that is created with the community. When I speak to them in Atikamekw, it’s a great opening.”

Mélanie Boivin thinks there is work to be done to keep the languages ​​alive in Lac-Saint-Jean.

“Among the Atikamekw, these are communities that are a little more isolated. And that made it possible to keep the language unlike the Innu of the Mashteuiatsh community. It’s closer to towns. The language is more in difficulty, at risk!”

The Mamik Center will have time to nurture this passion of young people for their traditional language, as the budgets are sufficient to continue the programs until the end of March 2023.

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