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Family language program teaches Anishinaabemowin in Durham Region

Language is a big part of any culture.

Some Indigenous people in Durham are now able to learn the language their ancestors spoke through a program at Durham College.

While lessons used to be shared over dinner, they’ve now gone virtual — but the knowledge remains dear to those studying.

“This is where the language was spoken and it was taken away,” said Julie Lezetc.

Lezetc is doing what she can to reconnect with her roots. She and her son James are taking an Indigenous language program, called the family language program, through Durham College.

“I have Indigenous ancestry Anishinaabe and Metis and Shawnee. I just wanted to be able to learn the language that my ancestors would have spoken,” said Lezetc.

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The 42-year-old has picked up some words and phrases here and there but she says there’s definitely been a learning curve.

“I’m going to have to be a lifelong learner for this one for sure,” said Lezetc.

Her learning journey over the past two years has been made even more meaningful by the fact that her son is experiencing it all with her.

“I’m just trying to do that for him so that he has a choice in how he wants to live when he gets older. I don’t want him to have to recover parts of his identity like I’m trying to do,” said Lezetc.

James Lezetc says “it’s kind of hard because some of the words are hard to say and pronounce.”

Julie Pigeon, a Durham College Indigenous student success co-ordinator, says the region has an Indigenous population of between 12 and 15,000 people. As there are over 30 Indigenous people currently enrolled in the program, there is a large pool of potential students out there.

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“Anishinaabemowin, which is the original language of this territory,” said Pigeon.

The program used to be once a week on campus. Now, with the pandemic, it has, of course, switched to online.

“All of the cultural teachings, the worldviews are contained within the language itself, so Anishinaabemowin is very verb-based, which is very different from English, which is very noun-based,” said Pigeon.

Julie and James Lezetc miss the weekly in-person gatherings.

For now, they’ll continue to pick up the language virtually, hoping soon they’ll be back learning side by side with their classmates.

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