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‘Trying to keep the language alive in our family’ — Angela James talks Dene Suline

Director of Education, Culture and Employment talks about keeping her family’s language alive
Angela James, director of Education, Culture and Employment, shared a method she uses to practice learning a language. “Whenever I’m invited to do a presentation, I lead with the language, meaning that I introduce myself with about 30 seconds to a minute in Dene Suline language,” she said. Photo courtesy of Angela James

Indigenous language is an important part of Angela James’ life. She is the director of the Indigenous Languages Initiative with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, and worked to create a scholarship program that helps keep Indigenous languages alive.

She talks about her language learning passion and her special connection to an Indigenous language.

“I’m an educator as well as a scholar and a researcher, and also an elder,” she said. “I have been in the Northwest Territories for over 40 years and have always had a very strong passion for languages.”

She said that marrying her husband, a native speaker of the Dene Suline language, previously known as Chipewyan, was an important part of her language learning journey.

She and her husband practice speaking Dene Suline together on a daily basis.

“When you’re learning a language, you always have to make sure that you share it and that you that you practice it,” she said. “Whenever I’m invited to do a presentation, I lead with the language, meaning that I introduce myself with about 30 seconds to a minute in Dene Suline language.

“I walk my talk, and that’s where my passion comes from.”

She also spoke about one of her biggest inspirations, her mother-in-law and well-known Dene Suline elder, Doris McQueen.

“My mother-in-law and I were very, very good friends,” she said. “I think I got a lot of the base of the language from her.

“I know she would have wanted the language to continue with myself, her son and our daughter as well.

“We’re trying to keep the language alive in our family.”

Scholarship boom year

James said the purpose of the Indigenous Languages Revitalization (ILR) Scholarship is to provide financial support for individuals who share a passion for Indigenous languages.

The scholarship programs offers $5,000 in funding for ten applicants a year but James said they wouldn’t let that stop them from giving to more applicants if they’re able.

“This year we awarded 18 Indigenous Languages Revitalization Scholarship,” she said. “It’s a boom year for the scholarships this year and we’re very proud of it.”

She explained why she believes there was an influx of applicants last year.

“The Northwest Territories is very cognizant and aware of the ILR movement and momentum that’s happening to strengthen, revitalize and promote indigenous languages, not only in the Northwest Territories but across Canada and the whole world.”

“With that higher profile of the importance of revitalizing indigenous languages, I’d like to say that that’s why we got more applicants.”

People interested in the scholarship should visit the Education, Culture and Employment website. The deadline for applicants is Dec. 1.