First Nation app revitalizes the old language in a new way

A small aboriginal community in British Columbia found a modern way to try and revitalize a traditional language before it was lost.

A community effort by the Ditidaht First Nation, which has 200 residents on Vancouver Island, resulted in a video game app that teaches children the centuries-old Ditidaht language.

The app, named Ditidaht Kids, also teaches users about First Nation culture, with an emphasis on traditional lifestyles.

“The app begins with an elder talking to the kids in a canoe, which is our traditional form of transportation,” Tina Joseph, research and production manager of the app, told CTV National News.

Children learn while playing.

“Throughout the game [children are] kind of catch the words that go with those activities and see how they’re done, ”Joseph explained.

The app is an attempt to preserve a language that has been almost lost as a result of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada described as the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples in residential schools.

“Our cultures and our teachings live within our languages,” Onowa McIvor, professor of indigenous education at the University of Victoria, told CTV National News. “The loss of language to our minds and families and the lands we come from is very serious.”

Language learning isn’t easy, and there’s a long way to go to bring back Indigenous languages, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor, she says.

“Anytime you can hear the language, it is the most transformative experience for you, for your mind, and the best for your brain,” said McIvor.

One of the goals of the app is for it to grow so that others can take advantage of this use of modern technology and extend it to other languages.

It’s not just the kids who do all the learning.

“I picked it up a bit myself,” Joseph said.

With files from CTV News’ Anna McMillan on Vancouver Island

Lance B. Holton