Alberta invests $1 million in library program to preserve Indigenous languages

CALGARY — The Alberta government is spending $1 million on a program at Calgary’s new central library to preserve Indigenous languages.

“I can’t think of a better place to house Calgary’s first Indigenous Language Resource Centre,” Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday in the downtown library’s auditorium.

The $245-million, 22,000-square-metre building opened last November to much fanfare and has drawn praise for its airy, modernist design.

Notley said the United Nations’ declaration that 2019 is the year of Indigenous languages is more than symbolic. She said language preservation is foundational to reconciliation.

“As a result of the residential schools, the end of language and the attack on language was a fundamental piece of what went wrong and so this is just a step forward in trying to change that direction and do better,” Notley said.

Elder Sheldon First Rider described being told his Blackfoot language was Satan’s language when he went to residential school as a boy.

“If they have spent billions and billions of dollars to take away our way of life, they can spend billions and billions of dollars to bring it back,” he said after Notley’s funding announcement.

Library CEO Bill Ptacek said library administrators visited the Tsuu T’ina Nation just outside Calgary a few years ago and were told they needed more help and resources for language education.

“I thought, that’s exactly what the library can do,” he recalled.

“We need to listen and follow direction from the community. This started with engagement and it needs to continue with engagement before anything really happens.”

Some of the money will go toward acquiring language resources. A space on the central library’s fourth floor has been set aside for the Indigenous language programming, which could include storytelling, lessons, conversation cafes and writing circles.

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