First Languages

October 31 to February 24, 2024

Interactive museum exhibition meant to inspire learning the history and evolution of Indigenous languages

First Languages (Two presentations from The Canadian Language Museum):

Beyond Words; Dictionaries and Indigenous Languages 

The narrative in this presentation highlights the complex relationship between Indigenous languages and dictionaries over several centuries. From the earliest contact, wordlists, phrasebooks and dictionaries have been more than neutral bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous languages. They’ve also been used in colonization.

Cree; The People’s Language

Visitors will learn the fascinating story of Cree, the most widely spoken Canadian Indigenous language. These displays feature maps and images, exploring the syllabic writing system, word formation, animacy and the future of Cree.

“We have a large Indigenous community in the Capital Region and with Cree in particular spoken here, we felt that bringing in the travelling displays would interest many people,” says Musée Héritage Museum Archivist, Vino Vipulanantharajah. “We are also adding our own local touches, with interactive activities.”

Visitors will enter a tipi and hear recordings of spoken Cree. Throughout the exhibition there are a series of stations with opportunities to listen and try to translate Indigenous languages, and identify and learn the meaning of the Indigenous names of some Alberta places, plants and animals.

A Syllabics Typewriter is also on display from the Provincial Archives of Alberta, which was once used to type documents in Cree. And, visitors will see dictionaries and books related to Cree, and displays showcasing two well-known local Métis women, Victoria Callihoo (one of the first local Métis matriarchs); and Dr. Anne Anderson, a dedicated author and teacher who was instrumental in preserving the Cree language and promoting Métis heritage. 

“We hope our added features will inspire people to think about the original oral nature of Cree and other Indigenous languages and the challenges in making them written languages, and also entice visitors to actually learn them,” adds Vipulanantharajah.“



Images: Inuktitut Syllabics; “Proof Close Up” by Christopher Chen (Cree); Cree Dictionary.