Saulteaux language speaker finds an eager audience
- By Liam O’Connor | March 20, 2023
Natalie Langan never expected being a podcast host would spur her to become a Saulteaux language instructor.
Her life changed one day when she received a Facebook message asking if she’d come on board for a podcast project with the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv).
Shannon Avison, the program coordinator of Indigenous Communication Arts, sent the email to Langan. It was Avison’s vision to have a network of Indigenous podcasts all under the banner of pikiskwewin.
“It’s like a year and a half later and it’s still going out there,” said Langan. “It’s still growing and we’re still continuously putting out new episodes all the time.”
Pikiskwewin has over 30 different podcasts. Almost all of them are completely in Saulteaux, Cree, Nakota, Dakota or Michif, with only a small amount of English.
Langan grew up on the Fishing Lake First Nation, raised by her grandmother. In their household, Saulteaux was the only language spoken, so fluency came naturally to her.
After 20 years of not speaking it, she lost a lot of the language, so the podcast is helping her to expand her knowledge.
“That is why I wanted to take this on with Shannon,” said Langan. “Because I knew that it was going to spark something within me to wake up my language.”
Every pikiskwewin podcast is different.
Langan’s consist of interviews with leaders because she grew up around many in her family.
“I thought it would be a great way to reach out to them,” said Langan. “And ask them, what inspired you, who was your inspiration to be in the position you are now.”
“[The podcast] was also a place for people who might have forgotten their language and wanted to relearn [it] or simply just hear [it],” she said. “That’s why my three podcasts were done primarily in Saulteaux.”
Saulteaux isn’t the predominant Indigenous language spoken in Saskatchewan.
There are only a few small clusters of areas where people speak Saulteaux, whereas Cree speakers are found in more parts of the province.
Preserving the Saulteaux language is critical because there are few language keepers left, said Langan.
Since joining pikiskwewin, she has become a Saulteaux language teacher at FNUniv.
Langan has also begun incorporating language learning and lessons into her podcasts.
Other organizations outside of FNUniv are also asking her to share the language.
The Newo Yotina Friendship Centre (NYFC) has her teaching people from across Canada.
“[At the] beginning of January, we had over 150 people want to join the Zoom class,” said Tammy Huget, the community program manager at NYFC. “And they’re from all over Canada and the US, so we have someone from Texas that comes on, someone from Nevada [and] South Dakota.”
Huget described an elderly student from the Maritimes who attended residential school and lost the Saulteaux language, but now she joins Langan’s classes over Zoom with her five grandchildren so they can learn together.
“It’s multi-generations of learning the language and bringing it back,” said Huget.
The end goal for Langan is to get Indigenous languages to the youth.
“It would be nice to see in the public school system, to have those languages offered,” she said.