Say It First

Indigenous Language Revitalization

A message from Mike Parkhill, SayITFirst

The Royal family has come and gone but the need to continue driving the issue of ancestral languages being spoken at home stays behind. The past few days have been a whirlwind for Heather and me. We are most impressed with various news agencies bringing the issue to the public's eye.

The exposure the Prince’s Charities Canada / Les Œuvres de bienfaisance du prince au Canada and Department of Canadian Heritage have created in launching the first children's book written in Southern Tutchone has been included on

We collectively need to continue making progress in solidifying self identity in our Native youth, our role in supporting Native Canadian youth and Indigenous roles in revitalization.

Thanks goes to Lorraine Allen, Darlene Scurvey and André Bourcier, who put themselves forward to make the difference needed to create the book.

Kate & William during a reading of Hide & Peek


young girl reading SIF book


I am both impressed and saddened when I am given the opportunity to see what various groups have accomplished in terms of language revitalisation in Canada. I say this only because I do not believe the secret sauce has been created yet. Despite several successes around the world, I keep wondering what exists that we can pluck and expand upon, replicate, then distribute and grow, not only from Native cultures, but also my own. I have come to the conclusion that every situation is unique and the reason why some efforts are successful usually rests on a unique set of people or policies that we cannot replicate in Canada at this time.

I get back to the simple premise of "How do we create more speakers tomorrow than exists today?" How do we get Native populations to get 20 hours or Native language practise per week for three years?

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I was presenting once at a language conference in Memramcook, New Brunswick. As I was saying, "Hi my name is Mike Parkhill," a lady put up her hand to ask me if I was Native. I said, "No." She declared, "With all of the great things Native educators are doing, why do we need to listen to a White guy talking about our language." A dozen people got up and left.

I was put off a bit but continued. "As I was saying, my name is Mike Parkhill." Another hand went up and I was asked if I was giving anything away for free. I said, "No." Another dozen or so people got up and left.

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How Do You Say...?



I've looked at several translation tools on the Internet and feel they misstate what they really are. The tools do not usually translate, but merely look up words and phrases that are preloaded. We need a game changer tool so the language can be digitized and readily available for use anytime, anywhere.

I got hold of my friend, Carla, at Microsoft and she helped me create a project on a technology called Microsoft Translator Hub. This technology helps Microsoft translate English into the top 130 languages in the world. When I asked Carla if we could be part of this project and if she had an appetite to help me tackle an Indigenous language, she said she would love to. As long as I could find a way to project manage the Native Language content, Microsoft would provide access to the true translator tool.

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Who has the time?

Who has the time?

A number of years ago I read a report out of California which claims fluency can be attained by spending twenty hours per week immersed in a language for a three-year period. The idea itself is quite simple, it is the execution of this plan where most fall short. I recently presented this thought at an Aboriginal Education conference in Minnesota where I was rightly challenged by an Ojibwe immersion teacher. He said I had used the word fluency without properly defining what I meant by this. 

Two types of fluency exist: one being primary discourse, the other being secondary discourse. I'll define primary discourse as the ability to have a conversation with words which already exist, like days of the week, colours, plant names, etc. Secondary discourse is the ability to create new words which currently do not exist. The example I like to use is the Inuktitut word for the Internet. It is Ikiaqqijjut, meaning, “my body stays here while my soul travels to other places.” We cannot get to secondary discourse until we have nailed the primary. I mean, the work we were doing in Nunavut was all about modernizing words and phrases. The children actually told us they needed the language to communicate modern thought if they were going to use Inuktitut. One boy actually asked me how to say, "He shoots, he scores," in Inuktitut. As Elders and older speakers pass over to the other side, endangered languages experience a severely threatened ability for secondary discourse to continue. Without the ability or process to create secondary discourse, without the ability to modernize, my belief is the revitalisation work being performed will be relegated to archival practices and no longer exist in the realm of vibrancy of culture. Knowledge will move entirely out of the Native community domain and will become the exclusive realm of academics and museums, archival pieces.

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Anomalies Lead to Solutions

computer card

Travelling from First Nation to First Nation, I am blessed with the ability to see great work developed by tenacious people. Specifically, the work I am talking about is the individual's effort put into promotion of the Native Languages. Whenever the topic is brought up, people say, "Oh, you should talk to David about his songs," or "You should see the talented pictures drawn by Casey." In many cases books have been already been put together and beautifully illustrated locally, lexicons have been indexed, songs have been translated and games have been created. Why then do Native Language teachers spend just over two hours per day creating their own content? I cannot imagine how futile a willing parent must feel if they want the language and culture to not only survive, but thrive in First Nation communities when they do not have the ability themselves to speak, read or write the gift of language. I believe a lot of material exists, we just do not see the potential, even though they are right in front of our eyes.

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First Nations’ leaders cannot wait for native languages to die

language loss

On July 13th The National Post ran an article that was critical of funding for First Nation language preservation. The article and resulting online comments from National Post readers touched a nerve with SayITFirst founder, Mike Parkhill. SayITFirst is working hard to leverage technology and community participation to Modernize, Expand, Revitalize and Localize (MERL) Indigenous languages in Canada. Below is a link to and a copy of the National Post article and Mike’s response.

Although the National Post article is now closed to comment, SayITFirst encourages you to leave comments, but please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to delete content containing insults, profanity, or offensive language. We will also delete any harassment, spam or advertising and will block repeat offenders.

“It's disturbing to see so many Canadians whom I'm sure would have been willing to hang swastikas on flags in front of their houses if living in 1939 Germany. Language is merely an extension of self-identity and has a direct effect on the health and well being of the individual and the community. By erosion of First Nation languages, social ills are propagated. Self-identity is materially harmed. Studies have shown that by First Nation members learning their ancestral language, suicide rates, substance abuse and school drop out rates all decrease considerably. Isn't this good for our society?

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