Wendat Language Revitalization
In Lorette, Quebec, the use of the Wendat language – a language of the Iroquoian family which is also known as Huron or Huron-Wendat – fell into disuse during the 19th century due to various demographic, economic and social factors. Although it is difficult to pinpoint a specific moment in time, the last speakers probably passed on during the second half of the 19th century, leaving our national language dormant.
It is only several decades later that members of the Huron-Wendat Nation, realizing the importance of their ancestral language, will try to reawaken it. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, various personal initiatives stimulate a movement for the return of the Wendat language. By the beginning of the 1980s, the primary school’s parents’ committee asked that efforts be made to integrate the language into the curriculum. In the early 1990s, the revitalization of traditional ritual practices encouraged the revitalization movement as it is stated that the ceremonies must be conducted in the traditional language.
During the same period, the Huron-Wendat Band Council deployed a few initiatives – hiring linguists and researchers, creating community committees, establishing introductory courses – to promote the reappropriation of the language, but unfortunately these efforts did not last. In parallel, certain members of the Nation established a non-profit organization, the Agondachia Society, which also offered introductory courses. Once again, it was short-lived, given the inherent challenges to reawakening a dormant language and the resources necessary to sustain such efforts.
It is in the early 2000s that the Huron-Wendat Band Council entrusted the language project to the administration of the local, band-run primary school. A Wendat linguist was hired to work on the standardization of the orthography. In addition, a linguistic committee was formed by community members. The committee worked in collaboration with the linguist to make recommendations and discuss different topics regarding the Wendat language. The first issue handled by the committee was the standardization of the Wendat orthography. After numerous discussions, the committee recommended a preliminary standardization to the Huron-Wendat Band Council, which then endorsed it. As a multitude of spelling systems were used historically, a standardized form of the orthography, and later also of the pronunciation, was a necessary step in order to speak, teach and learn the same language.
Parallel to these efforts, a Wendat individual was hired to find funding opportunities to establish a permanent language revitalization project during this same period. Subsequently, funding was secured through the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program in collaboration with Laval University. Through their CURA program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council granted nearly one million dollars over a period of five years to the Yawenda Project, a partnership between the Huron-Wendat Band Council and Laval University.
Members of the Yawenda Project worked from July 2007 till July 2012 and involved not only the best Iroquoanists of North America but also numerous Wendat participants in different research capacities. In five years, the amount of work done is colossal.
Here are a few of the achievements to date:
- Training of Wendat linguists;
- Standardization of Wendat orthography;
- Standardization of Wendat pronunciation;
- Training of future Wendat teachers;
- Development of teaching materials for the local primary school;
- Creation of teaching materials for community language classes for adults;
- Teaching of the Wendat language in the local primary school;
- Teaching of the Wendat language to adults;
- Development of several children’s books with accompanying audio;
- Conducted research on Wendat grammar and lexicon;
- Development of Wendat linguistic expertise;
- Creation of linguistic databases;
- Repatriation and digitization of manuscripts and other relevant documents related to the Wendat language;
- Establishment of linguistic reconstruction process;
- Reconstruction and standardization of Wendat data;
- Publication of several research articles and monographs on the revitalization process and the Wendat language.
All of the work accomplished by the Yawenda project members during those five years allowed for the ongoing reintroduction of the Wendat language within the Nation. At the end of this fruitful collaboration with Laval University in 2012, the Huron-Wendat Band Council delegated the continuation of the revitalization project to the CDFM (Centre de Développement de la formation et de la main d’œuvre) huron-wendat. The Wendat language project will thus be housed under and led by the Culture and Heritage Department of the CDFM.
In addition to pursuing the various initiatives of the earlier Yawenda Project, the CDFM’s Culture and Heritage Department has made significant efforts in furthering the revitalization of Wendat, including:
- Offering training in Wendat language to members of the tourist industry of Wendake;
- Offering Wendat courses to employees of the Band Council of the Huron-Wendat Nation;
- Training and supporting educators of the CPE Orak (daycare center) in the Wendat language, in association with the Health and Social Services Department of Wendake;
- Development of a Wendat language curriculum for students at the local, band-run primary school, École Wahta’;
- Offering Wendat language classes to students at École Wahta’, from kindergarten to grade 6, which appears on the students’ report cards;
- Development of a Wendat heritage language program officially recognized by the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur for secondary school credit;
- Creation of pedagogical material for the secondary school course Yatatiatha’ I (WEN-4001-1), which is taught on a regular basis to students at the CDFM;
- Completion of numerous translation requests made by community organizations and members;
- Establishment of a new language committee for the creation of lexical innovations;
- Development of a Wendat language website including a dictionary, lessons and exercises;
The revitalization of the Wendat language is far from over. There is much more work to be done. The CDFM Huron-Wendat continues to support the language revitalization process, by developing teaching material, training language teachers, and transmitting the language to individuals of many generations. It is now up to fellow members of the Wendat Nation to reappropriate this cultural wealth and to participate fully in the revitalization of our ancestral language.
Wendat kwatatiahtah! ‘Let’s speak Wendat!’