Congress Digest #2 - Sustaining language, mitigating online toxicity, and a guide to Indigenous law programs

June 17, 2024
Zach Hazledine; Liam Cepelloti; Serena Kapinga; Teddy Meza

Sustaining culture – revitalizing Indigenous languages

At the recent Big Thinking discussion at Congress 2024, esteemed panelists Janine Elizabeth Metallic, Ryan DeCaire and Mskwaankwad Rice underscored the groundbreaking methods employed in Indigenous language education, alongside the crucial impact of linguistic archive research. In addition, they highlighted the importance of adult immersion programs in promoting the revitalization of Kanien’kéha, and efforts to reclaim Anishinaabemowin’s resurgence. 

In a short Q&A after the panel discussion, Metallic, DeCaire and Rice, discussed the future of Indigenous languages, their potential, and how to centre Indigenous cultures in a colonial context. 

How optimistic are you about the future of your languages overall? 

Ryan DeCaire: Depends. If you look at the numbers, Indigenous languages across Canada and the United States are losing speakers faster than they’re creating new ones – so if you at that, it’s not great. But the amazing work that we’re doing today makes it extremely likely that our languages will continue into the future. 

Mskwaankwad Rice: In terms of whether I’m optimistic or not, I don’t talk about it that much because I’ve been pessimistic for a long time. In the short time I’ve been trying to learn my language for the past 10 to 12 years now, there are no more first language speakers in my family. There’s a few more in my community and my focus is working with them and documenting the language but if you look at the pure numbers, they’ve plummeted.  

Janine Elizabeth Metallic: We’re born into a situation sometimes where it’s hard not to be pessimistic. I think the best answer for me is to face the reality – we are losing speakers. In my community growing up, I heard the language all around me. And now when I go back, I don’t hear it. For me, I learned it as a first language but by the time I was 6 years old, I was also learning English and French. There were situations that my parents were in where they had to make those choices but my grandparents would say: “no matter what you do, where you go to school, you have to make sure to speak Mi’kmaq at home.” That’s been our guidance since the day I was born.  

RD: We hope that when we have kids and when they have kids, they’ll be in an even better situation. That’s what I want to do – that’s what we’re trying to do right? As for non-Natives learning the languages, it depends on the political situation. We understand from a Mohawk perspective that to be Mohawk isn’t your race or blood, it’s about your political affiliation within communities. Linguistically, no language is partial to where you are or where you come from. But when you try to put your resources into the best place to revitalize the languages, it’s not going to be non-Native people in the city. It’s good to frame it in that way – where are the Native people who are actually going to be passionate about it, take it on and be passionate about learning it. 

MR: Everyone wants to be optimistic and happy about it. But in my experience in my home community, you’re working on your language and then other people see that and they say “okay, good, someone’s taking care of it, we’re good, we don’t have to do it.”  

JEM: “Someone’s taking care of it.”  

MR: Yeah! Always. That being said, I try not to be negative or pessimistic anymore – I’m just putting my head down, doing the work that I want to do and documenting language with the elders.  

JEM: It takes a very pragmatic approach. You know, we have to be very realistic and we have to encourage speakers and learners to just keep doing the work and keep at it. Sometimes I even have to remind myself, to just remember, I have to speak my language.  

How do you centre yourselves, your language, and your culture in a colonial space?

RD: It’s what goes on in your mind – are you using the language every day? What decisions do you make that you’re using the language every day?  

JEM: It’s hard. Working with students provides me the opportunity to reinforce the language. It happens to be that one of my [current] students is a fluent speaker [of Mi’kmaw] as well. [In Fall 2024, I will begin supervising a Master’s student who will be doing research related to learning Anishnaabemowin.] I can encourage her to look at the work of these guys here and others who are learning the language and gone through it. I remember there’s a YouTube video of Ryan that my mother used in her community classroom to show adult learners that here’s someone who dedicated the time. Sometimes, you have to put aside everything else to focus on the language – it’s a big commitment but it’s a worthy one.

MR: It’s hard to centre yourself in a colonial institution – it’s weird to be in a colonial, predominantly white institution as a Native person. For myself and in my current academic career, connecting with other Native folks was essential. Thankfully, my university’s institute of linguistics has always been supportive of me and my work.  

JEM: We need to use what we learn in these institutions as tools. But it’s not at the centre. We’re picking up tools just like our ancestors did. We adapt them for the situations that are priorities for us. Language is a priority for us and in this case, we adopt these tools for the purpose of maintaining and sustaining our languages and cultures. 

A guide to Indigenous law programs in Canada

Indigenous law in Canada is a rapidly developing field of study that aims to build coursework, certificate, and degree programs around the legal traditions of Canadian Indigenous cultures. No matter what law course you choose to anchor yourself in, developing your knowledge of Indigenous legal practices and traditions used by communities across the country will make you a better and culturally responsible legal practitioner.

If you’re a student looking to develop your legal career in the burgeoning field of Indigenous law in Canada, there are plenty of renowned programs for you to be a part of.  

Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University 

The Schulich School of Law offers a Specialization in Aboriginal and Indigenous Law program as part of your legal education. To qualify, you must complete 3 mandatory courses and take 3 additional credits by completing 1 of 6 Indigenous law-specific courses. For more information, click here

uOttawa Indigenous Law Certificate  

uOttawa offers an undergraduate Certificate in Indigenous Law. This program is only offered in French.  

Meanwhile, JD students can specialize in Indigenous law as part of their course of study. Students must complete 3 mandatory credits along with a major paper. The program is offered in both official languages. 

University of Victoria Indigenous Law Degree & Joint Degree Program 

uVic offers the Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders (JD/JID) – one of the first of its kind in Canada. Graduates will obtain a Juris Doctor and Juris Indigenarum Doctor upon completing their 4-year program.  

In addition, uVic’s National Centre for Indigenous Law opens in Fall 2024, offering students a valuable shared space for learning, gathering, and ceremony.  

Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC Indigenous Legal Studies 

At UBC, law students may take the Specialization in Indigenous Legal Studies. Students must complete 14 credits to pass the specialization. For more information, click here

University of Toronto Certificate in Aboriginal Legal Studies 

UofT offers a JD Certificate in Aboriginal Legal Studies to prospective students at the Faculty of Law. Students must complete a mandatory course, write a paper, host a presentation on Indigenous studies, and complete 3 credits from a list of eligible courses. For more information, click here

A novel climate education framework for teacher education

Welcome to Congress in Conversation, a special series presented by the Big Thinking Podcast in partnership with The Conversation Canada where we convene researchers presenting at Congress 2024 to share their research and experiences within the context of shared responsibility to our society, systems, and planet.

For our second episode, our host Nehal El-Hadi, journalist, editor, and producer at The Conversation Canada is joined by Kshamta Hunter, Manager of Transformative Learning and Student Engagement within the Sustainability hub at the University of British Colombia.

Climate change and the related social impacts have necessitated a re-think of traditional pedagogies. Educators are faced with the challenge to not only engage learners in these conversations, but to support and address the range of emotions and pedagogical complexities that involve socio-scientific realities. Climate-Kind Pedagogy (CKP) attempts to synthesize various climate, kindness and justice orientated educational approaches into a comprehensive pedagogy geared at addressing the pressing need for both educators and learners to re-conceptualize their relationship with one another and the planet while offering a framework for embedding climate education in teaching and learning. 

Hear the full episode

Navigating the digital seas of pluriliteracies

Centered around digital pluriliteracies and how to navigate this era of digital transformation for educators and students, this session explored the implications of digital tools in writing, focusing on fostering an environment of strategic, efficient, effective, ethical, and safe use of these technologies. 

The discussion addressed several key questions: 

  • How does digital technology redefine the traditional practices associated with the act of writing? 
  • How can we document and understand the contributions and potential risks of these tools? 
  • How can we study the meaning of digital literacy in the age of algorithms and automation? 
  • What implications might these tools have for educators and students? 

Writing in Digital Spaces 

Documenting digital literacies and their associated processes is essential. By understanding the resources that facilitate digital writing, educators can bring these insights back to the classroom to inform and enhance teaching practices. It is also valuable to recognize what is happening in real-world digital literacy practices. This understanding can provide lessons that are directly applicable in educational contexts. 

Recognizing the unique strengths and challenges of various tools used by plurilingual students is crucial. These tools can help identify diverse pathways for students to leverage their linguistic strengths in composing texts and addressing unique linguistic challenges. In the age of digital literacies, focusing solely on the final product or the tools themselves is insufficient. Both educators and students risk missing out on valuable learning opportunities if they do not actively engage in researching and experimenting with these powerful technologies. 

Digital tools are complex and powerful, and students need guidance from writing experts to navigate them effectively. Educators should create an environment where students are encouraged to question and reflect on their learning processes, focusing not only on what they produce but also on how they achieve their outcomes. Explicit instruction and transparent work on these processes in the classroom are needed to ensure the strategic, efficient, effective, ethical, and safe use of digital resources. 

To integrate different modes and tools effectively, educators should adopt a pedagogic sequence that follows these steps: 

  1. Initial Writing Without Digital Tools: Start with traditional writing methods to build a foundational understanding of writing processes. 
  2. Revision with Digital Tools: Introduce digital tools for revising and enhancing the initial drafts, allowing students to explore the affordances of these technologies. 
  3. Refinement with Human Resources: Use human feedback and collaboration to refine the work further, integrating peer and instructor insights. 
  4. Presentation: Have students present what they have accomplished and learned, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of an integrated approach that combines traditional and digital methods. 

Stimulating critical thinking and encouraging comparisons between different operational modes and processes can lead to greater digital awareness and critical digital pluriliteracy. Metalinguistic observations, combined with digital awareness, are crucial for developing a comprehensive understanding of how digital tools can be strategically and ethically employed in writing and literacy practices. This approach ensures that students are not only proficient in using digital tools but also critical of their use and aware of their implications. 

How to publish your first scholarly book with the Scholarly Book Awards

With over 8,000 scholarly books published since 1914, the Scholarly Book Awards (formerly Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP)) is a great way option for humanities and social science specialists and doctorates to publish their first scholarly book. 

This highly competitive program offers 180 publication grants of $8,000 and 5 translation grants of $30,000 annually from April 1 to March 31. Authors also have the option of applying for an Open Access grant of $8,000 for a complete book and $2,000 for a book chapter. This year, there are 18 Open Access grants available (9 for books and 9 for chapters).  

To publish your book with the Scholarly Book Awards you must: 

  • Be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. 
  • Have 40,000 words or more.  
  • Publish in English or French. 
  • Use an approved publisher from the ASPP-approved list. 

Authors do not have to be affiliated with a university to be eligible for a grant.  

For more information, visit the Scholarly Book Awards page.

The Scholarly Book Awards grants are made possible thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). 

Fighting the trolls

In the digital age, social networks and online publications such as The Conversation Canada offer researchers and journalists unprecedented opportunities to reach new audiences and make their work accessible. However, this increased visibility comes with a major risk: online harassment. This kind of abuse can have serious repercussions, both personally and professionally.

The growing threat of online harassment 

The phenomenon of online harassment is a growing concern, particularly for researchers and journalists. According to a recent survey, 77.5% of writers questioned had been confronted with hateful comments during a 12-month period. According to Scott White, editor-in-chief of The Conversation Canada, since January 2020, 31,049 comments have been received on The Conversation, of which 4.4% were harmful. According to him, even if only 4.4% of comments are toxic, the consequences are significant. 

Consequences of harassment 

Psychological stress, exhaustion and reduced willingness to engage publicly are frequently experienced by victims of online harassment. According to White, 8% of participants expressed their intention to stop writing for The Conversation because of negative comments. This statistic, he says, demonstrates that harassment has the effect of silencing important voices in academia. 

What's more, harassment goes beyond online exchanges. According to Victoria O'Meara, harassment can also manifest itself in everyday life, increasing the vulnerability of victims. She added that our aim should be to prioritize support for those affected, rather than focusing exclusively on prevention. 

Resources and Strategies to Reduce Harassment  

In order to tackle this threat, it is essential to develop effective strategies and exploit available resources:  

  • Institutions must offer clear instructions and resources for dealing with online harassment. O'Meara suggested the creation of inter-departmental plans and protocols to facilitate the reporting process. 
  • It is essential that researchers and journalists take steps to ensure their online safety, such as using secure passwords and documenting incidents of harassment. According to White, it is recommended that researchers make a note of each incident and immediately block abusive accounts. 
  • Various organizations offer valuable resources and support. For example, Data & Society offers examples of good practice for conducting risky research, while the eSafety Commissioner offers recommendations for ensuring online safety. The RGDI Research Group offers a toolkit for managers and employers. 
  • Researchers and journalists are at serious risk from online harassment. By adopting appropriate approaches and exploiting available resources, it is possible to design a safer and more inclusive digital environment. It's not just a question of protecting individuals to combat trolls, but also of preserving the integrity and freedom of academic and journalistic discourse. 

To close, we were presented with a pamphlet containing. Multiple sources of support and tools against online harassment. A PDF version is accessible at the link below.

Learn more

Photography courtesy of Shawn Ayyadi Pilon