June 28, 2019

Fourth annual Campfire Chats welcomes diverse perspectives on Indigenous languages

National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration honours 2019 as Year of Indigenous Languages
Tsuu'tina Traditional Knowledge Keeper Diane Meguinis and Bearspaw Traditional Knowledge Keeper Rod Hunter share their stories about the significance of language. Photo by Colleen De Neve, for the University of Calgary
Tsuu'tina Traditional Knowledge Keeper Diane Meguinis and Bearspaw Traditional Knowledge Keeper Rod

A rainy day didn’t hinder celebrations at Campfire Chats on National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21. Festivities were moved indoors, a virtual campfire took the place of a real one, and the audience was kept warm with drumming, dancing, and diverse stories from Traditional Knowledge Keepers.

Pictured above are Tsuu'tina Traditional Knowledge Keeper Diane Meguinis and Bearspaw Traditional Knowledge Keeper Rod Hunter, sharing their stories about the significance of language. 

The day of activities welcomed almost 200 people and was presented by Community Engagement and ii’ taa’poh’to’p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, in partnership with Writing Symbols Lodge, Development and Alumni Engagement, and the Calgary Stampede.

In honour of the United Nations’ declaration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the event focused on the diversity and importance of language.

Reg Crowshoe opened the program with stories about some of the creation principles that guide natural laws and languages. “Our language comes from the sounds of the ecosystem, and we build our vocabulary from those sounds,” he said. “For example, a bee is called naamóó, which is just like the sound of a bee.”

For Traditional Knowledge Keeper Florence Kelly, the Anishinaabe language of the Ojibwe tribe is deeply embedded in her childhood and family. Born in 1941, she comes from a large family of trappers outside of Kenora, Ont. She echoed how much land is connected to language. “March is the month when crows come back from migration — as kids, we were always excited for that,” she said. “We called March aandeg giizis, which means ‘the month of the crows,’ and June was ‘strawberry month,’ ode'imin giizis.”

The evening program started with remarks from Dana Peers, president and chairman of the board for the Calgary Stampede, followed by Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement), who reflected on his connection to language and moderated the evening discussion.

Hart is from the Fisher River Cree nation in Manitoba, and presented part of his talk in his dialect of Swampy Cree. “It’s through our language that we build our foundation and connections, and can learn to walk in a good way,” he said. Like Crowshoe and Kelly, Hart emphasized the inextricable connection that language has to land. 

The evening continued with more reflective stories about language from Traditional Knowledge Keepers Reg Crowshoe, Rod Hunter, and Diane Meguinis.

Campfire Chats is just one of many ways that UCalgary is working to decolonize ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being at UCalgary. Learn more about ii’ taa’poh’to’p, our Indigenous Strategy.

Campfire Chats 2019