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Updated: 8th January 2019 21:13

Tsuu T'ina language brought back from the brink

Members of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation are partnering with the University of Calgary to keep their language alive.

Language protection central to strong First Nations culture: project leader

Tsuu T'ina First Nation member Gerald Meguinis is the youngest speaker of the Tsuutina language at 60. Meguinis said the language is pretty complicated. ((CBC))

Members of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation are partnering with the University of Calgary to keep their language alive.

There are only about 50 people left who can fluently speak the Tsuu T'ina language, called Tsuutina, and the youngest person still fluent is 60 years old.

That's why the university has developed a new language program to be offered by the faculty of education on the reserve on the outskirts of Calgary.

Emil Starlight, a Tsuu T'ina member who is helping lead the project, said preserving traditional languages is central to maintaining robust First Nations culture.

"Culture and language are intertwined. You cannot learn the language without the culture. You can't learn the culture without the language," Starlight said Friday at a pipe ceremony to launch the Teaching and Learning for Tsuu T'ina Language and Culture program.

Many of the students in the program, which will be offered for the first time this month, are teachers at the Tsuu T'ina reserve school. They will pass the language skills they learn onto their own students.

The 20 open spots in the four-course certificate program, which uses a mix of online and classroom lessons, have already been filled.

"I was exposed to it as a child through the elementary school but it wasn't something I picked up to the point of fluency. And then I went to public schools ... and I didn't have a lot of contact with it," said Beric Manywounds, another band member signed up for the program.

First Nations language classes will take place online and on the Tsuu T'ina reserve on the outskirts of Calgary. ((CBC)) The youngest Tsuutina speaker, Gerald Meguinis, said it's a "pretty complicated" language that gets more complex the more you learn.

"This is something that no other nationality has given us. It was given to us by the great, you know, god," said Meguinis. "But over the years it's been dying."

Starlight said he's also on the lookout for songs that used to be sung to Tsuu T'ina infants to familiarize them with the sounds of the language.

"I got to find them first and then learn them, so I can teach them to the younger ones," he said. "We want to retain our identity, we want to retain ourselves. It's needed to survive."

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