June 17, 2019

Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day at Campfire Chats

2019 event honours the importance of Indigenous languages
The 2018 First Nations Princess Cieran Starlight performs a jingle dress dance.

The 2018 First Nations Princess Cieran Starlight performs a jingle dress dance.

Colleen De Neve, for the University of Calgary

It’s no secret that Indigenous languages around the world are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 96 per cent of the world’s 6,700 languages are spoken by only three per cent of the population, and more than 40 per cent of those languages are in danger of disappearing.

Recognizing that the loss of language is one of the most critical issues faced by Indigenous Peoples today, the United Nations General Assembly named 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. 

Honouring language at Campfire Chats

With this important theme in mind, the University of Calgary’s annual Campfire Chats will celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 with an afternoon of events and activities, followed by a moderated conversation around a campfire exploring the importance of Indigenous languages. 

The daytime program (2:30 to 5 p.m.) will welcome visitors for teepee raising, traditional drumming and dancing performances, and storytelling in teepees with: Florence Kelly, Elder from the Onigaming First Nation, and UCalgary alumna; Reg Crowshoe, Pikanii Elder and UCalgary’s Traditional Knowledge Keeper in Residence; and Curtis Running Rabbit-Lefthand, member of the Amskaapipikuni, Siksika, and Stoney Nakoda Nations and UCalgary law student.

The evening program (5:30 to 7 p.m.) will include a concession of bannock and saskatoon berry jam, alongside remarks from the Calgary Stampede, a performance from First Nations Princess Astokomii Smith, as well as stories from Reg Crowshoe, Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement), Diane Meguinis, Tsuut’ina Elder, and Rod Hunter, Bearspaw Elder, about the significance of language.

“For us, language is what Creator gave us to communicate with him,” explains Hunter. “We have a story about a lady that passed away, and she went up to the gate and said, 'Let me in,’ in English, but Creator didn’t let her in. ‘I don’t understand you,’ he said. ‘You did not speak to me in the language I gave you. Go back and learn it, and then I will let you in.’ That’s how important language is.”

Language revitalization starts with listening to language-holders and knowledge keepers like Hunter. As we learn about the history and value of Indigenous languages in Southern Alberta, we can look toward a richer, more diverse future.

June is National Indigenous History Month, and National Indigenous Peoples Day is on June 21. Learn more about how UCalgary is Indigenizing ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being through  ii’ taa’poh’to’p, our Indigenous Strategy.

Do you have a project in mind to help the vision of ii’ taa’poh’to’p? Students, faculty and staff can apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to Indigenize and decolonize our campus. Deadline is June 30.