Working together for education in our language

The first ever conference on immersion education in First Nations was held at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., October 3-6, 2005. This conference was sponsored jointly by the Chair in Native Studies at St. Thomas University and by the Chief's Committee on Languages (CCOL) of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) with funding from Heritage Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. It was planned initially as an opportunity to bring First Nations immersion educators together around the visit of two world renowned scholars, Drs. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Robert Phillipson, on the topics of linguistic imperialism, linguistic human rights, and immersion education. But the conference grew into far more than just an academic exercise. Educators attended from virtually every First Nation in Canada with an immersion program, along with language policy specialists from the Assembly of First Nations, and language activists from communities seeking ways to save their languages. For once a language conference was able to focus on the single most important strategy for maintaining a language-immersion. And for the first time ever, participants had the unique opportunity not only to hear of the remarkable educational and linguistic success of immersion in nine different languages, but also to discuss educational and political strategies for establishing and supporting immersion programs. Inspiring and informative keynote addresses were delivered by the following scholars and immersion activists:

Dr. Robert Phillipson of Denmark on English as a Frankenstein language;
Dr. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas of Denmark on linguistic human rights and the benefits of education in the medium of the mother tongue;
Dorothy Lazore of Ahkwesahsne on the various immersion programs in the Mohawk Nation;
Amos Key of the Woodland Cultural Center on Cayuga immersion for K-12;
Kathy Michel of Atahmıs Lake, BC, on immersion in a tiny community with a severely endangered language (Secwepemc);
Ruth Norton of Manitoba on the report of the Task Force on Indigenous Languages;
David Leitch, constitutional lawyer from Toronto, on Canadaıs legal obligation to fund immersion education in First Nations.

Among the many recommendations from this symposium was one to develop this website as a means of disseminating information on immersion from and to First Nations across the country. The first pieces of information to be highlighted will include the recommendations from the October symposium on immersion, summaries of the speakers' presentations, an order form for CDs containing audio versions of speakers' presentations, articles on immersion, and a list of related websites.

For the time being this website will be operated out of the Native Studies Program at St. Thomas University. For more information, or to share information about immersion conferences, relevant events, websites, papers, and presentations, please feel free to contact us.