Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw
On the occasion of the official launch today of the International Year of Indigenous Languages at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, the Council of the Atikamekw Nation (CAN) wishes to underscore the importance of this campaign for asserting the identity of indigenous people. The CAN deems that, with over 70 recognized indigenous languages in Canada, the proliferation of projects that will echo UNESCO's initiative can give a vital boost to the recognition of First Nations and their contribution to the cultural richness that Canada enjoys. "The tie between our identity and our language is as indivisible as the tie between our existence and our land. By mobilizing to protect indigenous languages, the international community is giving us an opportunity to further the general public's appreciation of the nobility of our cause," stated Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation.
A palpable fragility
Though the Atikamekw language is one of the best preserved indigenous languages in North America—it is the language spoken at home for 97% of the Atikamekw people—its fragility remains real. "It is all the more critical to step up efforts to protect our language in that the Atikamekw are the last people to have preserved the "R" dialect of the Proto-Algonquian language family. This is a primitive dialect that linguists recognize as an invaluable treasure chest in terms of traditional knowledge," pointed out Nicole Petiquay, linguistics expert at the CAN.
"Kitarimwewininak micta nipara ki ka otinenawaw ke witcihikoekw kipimatisiwiniwak. Ekota kaskina e aspictek tepirak tca kotc ki ta kockonenawaw kitci tca apatcitaiekw. Kaskina e ki actamakoikw aka e pameritamokw."
Pronounced by the late Mocom Sarmon, one of the many Atikamekw elders whose teachings continue to ring true today, this sentence translates as follows: "Our language contains all of life. Seek in it all the facets of your identity and all the paths that can help you find them. The only thing that could prevent your awakening is lacking the will to devote time to this pursuit."
"I hope that the Atikamekw youth and the future generations will always know that if our heritage today is ancestral, it is because our elders were able to keep our oral tradition alive. It is not enough to just protect our language: It must be spoken to the point where our spirituality shines through," added Constant Awashish.
Atikamekw to mark International Year of Indigenous Languages
This summer, the 5th edition of Nitaskinan Day, an annual event to commemorate the Atikamekw Nehirowisiw Declaration of Sovereignty, will be dedicated specifically to the Atikamekw language. Moreover, the dictionary of the Atikamekw language that the CAN undertook to produce in 2014 in collaboration with Prof. Marie-Odile Junker of Carleton University is slated for publication in 2019.
About the Council of the Atikamekw Nation
The Council of the Atikamekw Nation (CAN) grew out of the will of the Manawan, Opitciwan and Wemotaci Atikamekw Councils to unite in order to offer programs and services to the Atikamekw people. As a band council, the CAN dispenses various services to its communities and engages in political representation on behalf of the Atikamekw Nation.