Since the late 1960s, there has been a growing interest in society in Aboriginal culture, education and languages (Lieberman, 2002). According to UNESCO (2003), the production of indigenous content distributed through ICT can " (…) to contribute to highlight the cultural identities of indigenous populations ” (p.1). During the last forums of 2003 and 2004 "Let's Connect the Indigenous Peoples of Canada", the need to promote and preserve indigenous culture and language was a fundamental issue repeatedly raised by many participants. According to them,
“(…) Aboriginal communities should be encouraged to use the Internet to collect and share information on their visual and oral traditions, language, art, history and culture”
(Aboriginal Canada Portal Working Group, 2003, p.5).
Grennall and Loizides (2001) agree in stating that "(…) Technology has the potential to strengthen indigenous culture and traditions" (p.42). In fact, for the past few years, a number of successful initiatives have been showing interesting possibilities in terms of promoting Aboriginal culture, language and traditions. Through archiving, indexing and digitization, Indigenous cultural materials can be distributed over the web (Indigenous Canada Portal Working Group, 2004). Thus, it contains resources disseminated on the Internet such as Aboriginal Web pages filled with cultural information, discussion forums, a virtual trade fair focused on the promotion of Aboriginal arts and online learning of Aboriginal languages.
During 2001, the Canadian government in partnership with the various national Aboriginal organizations made available to Internet users " The Aboriginal Canada Portal ». This site is a one-stop-shop for accessing online resources, contacts, information, and Canadian government programs and services related to Aboriginal people.
For generations, the sharing of Indigenous knowledge, culture, language, values, and traditions has been through Elders (Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones, 1997). "In this regard, the elderly are true bearers of a living heritage" cited by the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones (1997, p.15). Over the years, the Elders died out, taking their knowledge with them without having transmitted all of their heritage knowledge (Working Group of the Aboriginal Canada Portal, 2004). As part of the third forum "Let's Connect the Indigenous Peoples of Canada" (2004), the participants looked at this aspect to propose solutions to avoid the disappearance of this knowledge. Could information and communication technologies be a solution? For the Musqueam First Nation in British Columbia, new technologies are being used to promote and preserve the ancestral Musqueam language. In partnership with the University of British Columbia, the community of Musqueam has developed a program called " Word of the Day ". As part of this program, the community stored the words of the Elders via a digital database. Through a graphical interface, students can listen to these recordings and learn the Musqueam language (Grennal and Loizides, 2001).
During the Global Forum of Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society which took place in Geneva in December 2003, Chief Joseph Norton, Grand Chief of the Kahnawake Mohawk Council described the Internet as " 8e continent " (Center for Documentation, Research and Information of Indigenous Peoples - doCip, 2003, not paginated). In addition, he recognizes "The capacity of ICT to become a tool for traditional learning and a new vehicle for communication between IPs (Indigenous Peoples) " (Center for Documentation, Research and Information of Indigenous Peoples - doCip, 2003, not paginated). Indeed, thanks to the online context, students in Indigenous schools can now share their cultural heritage with other Indigenous peers, regardless of the distance that separates them. The work of Lieberman (2002) reveals that these students develop “ … A stronger sense of belonging to their Aboriginal group and a deeper commitment to their language and culture ” (Lieberman, 2002, not paginated).
In short, contact with new technologies is inevitable for the aboriginal communities of the First Nations of Quebec. Through the pedagogical integration of ICT into the school curriculum of Indigenous students, we see opportunities to strengthen Indigenous linguistic and cultural revitalization. Passing on this ancestral heritage will require concerted action by the various levels of government.
By Hélène Archambault, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, (Manitoba)
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