A teacher in northern Alberta is racing to piece together a dying Indigenous language before the last few people who speak it are gone.
For the past two years, Victoria Wanihadie has travelled the Peace River area to find people who remember the Beaver culture and language.
She jots down their memories and records the sounds of words that might otherwise be forgotten.
“I think this is my purpose,” said Wanihadie, a part-time high school teacher and Indigenous educator in Grande Prairie, Alta.
“Our stories haven’t been told, and I want to share our history with others.”
Eighty people in Alberta reported they can speak Beaver, according to 2016 census data released in October by Statistics Canada.
Fewer than 50 identified the language as their mother tongue.
“We have to find a way to bring the language back to this area,” Wanihadie said. “So that we can all heal from the past.”
Wanihadie grew up in the hamlet of Grovedale, Alta., believing she was Cree. Her parents rarely spoke about their Indigenous roots.
“My parents moved away from the reserve and they did not share their Beaver history with us,” she said. “I think that my parents wanted to protect us from being hurt, and from being discriminated against.”
Two years ago, Wanihadie decided to learn more about her heritage. That’s when she discovered her family was Beaver, not Cree.
Her grandparents had been cut off from their Beaver language and culture at residential school.
After returning to the community, they adopted the Cree dialect spoken by members of the nearby Horse Lake First Nation, Wanihadie said.
Read more: CBC News