Celebrating THE IMPORTANCE OF Language on National Indigenous Peoples Day, 2019


Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. This year has also been declared the Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations. June is also Indigenous History Month here in Canada. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the efforts of so many to forward the growth (to be more accurate—the regrowth) of Indigenous languages in North America and around the world. In Canada, we have now had two national reports that detail the cultural genocide suffered by Indigenous peoples on these lands. Both the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have emphasized the need for action to preserve Indigenous languages.

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In 2018, on Orange Shirt Day, we had the honour of announcing the creation of a dual language version of the award-winning book I Am Not a Number. Now we can celebrate its upcoming publication this September, along with dual-language editions of The Water Walker and Stolen Words.

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It has been a very meaningful experience for us here at the press to work with the translators, authors, and community members involved in these dual language editions. Having no staff at Second Story who are Indigenous or speak these languages themselves, we needed their expertise in every way. By sharing these translations, they also shared with us a bit about each of their communities and cultures — nothing can bring home the importance of language more than this.


Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not A Number

Written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland

Translated by Geraldine McLeod and Muriel Sawyer with Tory Fisher.

This dual language edition sees the award-winning true story told in both English and Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe), Nbisiing dialect—the language spoken by the book's protagonist, Irene Couchie, co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, who was taken from her parents to live in a residential school, where she was forbidden from speaking her language.

The translation took place on a local level with Muriel Sawyer, Geraldine McLeod, and Tory Fisher—language speakers from Nipissing First Nation, Irene Couchie's home. Language revitalization is of great importance for this community, recognizing that language is key to a culture's ability to thrive—a process that was damaged by the residential school system. Translation initiatives like this can widen the world of children's literature, creating space for Indigenous language speakers.

Nibi Emosaawdang / The Water Walker

Written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson

Translated by Shirley Williams and Isadore Toulouse

The new edition, in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) and English, of the award-winning true story of a determined Ojibwe Nokomis (grandmother) Josephine-ba Mandamin and her great love for Nibi (water).

The new edition contains a note on the book's translation into Anishinaabemowin by Shirley Williams—a fellow water walker—and Isadore Toulouse, both of whom are from Josephine-ba's home community of Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation. The translation draws special meaning from the fact that both Shirley and Nokomis were sent to residential school, where they were forbidden from speaking their language. Nokomis was able to read the translation before her passing, and took great joy in the fact that this book would now be shared in Anishinaabemowin.

kimotinâniwiw itwêwina / Stolen Words

Written by Melanie Florence

Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

The new dual language edition, in Plains Cree and English, of the award-winning story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in Cree, he tells her that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again.

The translation was carried out by two Plains Cree language speakers, Dolores Sand and Gayle Weenie, from Saskatchewan. Language consultation and assistance was provided by the Cree Literacy Network.

Emma Rodgers