Literacy awards honour Aboriginal language teachers

Click on the slideshow above to view captions.Photos: Eletha Curren.

Seku hóneltën means “teacher” in Dëne Suliné, or the Chipewyan language, a fact that eight year-old Bridgett McKay learned thanks to her teacher Angie Fabien at the Deninu School in Fort Resolution.

Through Fabien’s efforts, usage of the Chipewyan language at the school has increased 23 per cent, earning the institution this year’s NWT Ministerial Literacy Award for the youth category.

“I create all my own material,” Fabien said. “You walk into my classroom and it’s an open Chipewyan dictionary. We use puppets, hands-on modern technology, smartboards and the kids type in the language using the Dene font.”

Members of the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) have been trying to integrate the use of Aboriginal languages into their curriculum for years. Fabien’s strong personal connection to the language made her efforts all the more successful.

“It’s all about the students. It’s their identity; it’s who they are as Dene people,” Fabien said. “Our language is dying so these are the students that are bringing it out of the classroom, into the hallways, onto the playground, into the communities and at home.”

Fabien and other teachers at the school encourage their students to integrate Chipewyan into their everyday lives. The hallways of the school are covered in Chip signage. At recess, the kids use the language while playing their games. After school, they go home and share their knowledge with their families and their elders.

“When you’re looking at the ministerial awards for literacy, you’re looking at individuals or groups that go above and beyond what might be expected of them and are really promoting literacy in one way or another, more than just for themselves but to others,” said Brent Kaulback, assistant superintendent for SSDEC, who submitted the school’s award nomination.

“It’s not just learning language in school and sort of keeping it there, but they really are taking that language into their homes, and I think that’s really important for all of our communities for the languages to really become revitalized; that’s what needs to be happening and that’s what the Deninu students are doing.”

This isn’t the first time Fabien has been recognized for her education efforts; last year she was awarded with the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

“I’m really, really so touched by these students. They are awesome children and I am honoured to work with them,” Fabien said. “They just motivate me so much.”

Literacy advocated in the North

Deninu School was among a handful of leaders awarded for their championing of literacy in the NWT.

The Tuktoyaktuk Community Learning Centre, which offers educational opportunities for youth and adults alike, was awarded the organization literacy award in part for instructor Greg Gidman’s efforts to include the Inuvialuktun language in his teaching methods. Robyne Leblanc from the same group was recognized for her creative methods in educating budding entrepreneurs.

Former executive director of the NWT Literacy Council, Helen Balanoff, was named this year’s Literacy Champion for her four decades of dedication towards the development of education in the NWT. Since 1973, she has had roles as an educator, policy developer, administrator, writer, researcher and literacy advocate. Most recently, Balanoff was given the 2012 Queen’s Jubilee Medal for her work.

Mark Salvor was named this year’s top volunteer educator for his dedication to his clients. Micheline Richard was given the prestigious professional educator’s award for her well-rounded methods of French instruction at Ecole Sir John Franklin School in Yellowknife.

Special Olympics athlete Julie White of Fort Providence was honoured with this year’s Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

The Ministerial literacy awards recognize excellence in a commitment to literacy in an array of roles including student, teacher and organization. They have been running since 2002, when the award was created by the minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

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