Lessons to be learned from Canadian models PDF Print E-mail

Louise Mandell from Vancouver, Canada sees parallels in the reinstatement of cultural practices between North America and Australia.
Louise Mandell from Vancouver, Canada sees parallels in the reinstatement of cultural practices between North America and Australia.

'It's hard to imagine Lhe pain of an oral society losing their language. I don't know how they'd get over it.' 

CANADIAN QC, Louise Mandell has worked for 25 years with the indigenous peoples of North America , in the area of litigation for settlement of Indigenous and Crown title disputes.

Acknowledging the power that extinguishment of language gives to the invading nation has figured largely in the legal arguments in North America.

 

"The most difficult time we have representing communities in court, is where the people have lost contact with their language. The colonizers found language the crucial link they had to cut — the first step to assimilation."

Louise's keen interest in the battles taking place in Australian courts, and in the processes of community protection of cultural knowledge, led to an invitation to take part in the Sydney Racism Conference.

Among the many strategies Louise has seen that aim to preserve cultural traditions, she was struck by the commitment of one community in British Columbia to a 'total language immersion' program, that produced impressive results for people of all ages.

" In this particular community, the people recognised that unless drastic measures were taken, their language would be lost. So to combat this, they decided to put a language speaker in every single home where there was not one already.This involved over 200 homes and they were fortunate to have the numbers of speakers to do this." The language speaker was then to live with the family night and day for a year or more, if needed, until the language was learned.

"I went back to visit half way through the program and already all the kids were bilingual. I witnessed the creation of a generation of Sami speakers among kids and young adults."

Other communities Louise has worked with, while not extending to the use of live-in teachers, understood and used the pressure of community rules to enforce the revival of language use.

"In the immersion school programs, the parent teacher evenings, Christmas pageants, the children's school newsletter are all in language. Not even the janitor can work in the school if they don't speak it."

Ms Mandell's passionate interest in the preservation of the cultural rights of Native North Americans extends to the ongoing efforts in Australia to make significant changes.

" It's hard to imagine the pain of an oral society losing their language. I don't know how they'd get over it." Louise said.
"In terms of the question, 'What position does language hold in relation to the whole area of cultural heritage?' it's quite simple. If the colonizers accepted that language was the first link that had to be cut to separate a people from their culture, how can it be denied now that it is the starting point to allow reconnection.This is the responsibility that must be faced up to."