Lessons in Stoney langauge and history


A most interesting opportunity developed last spring. Dr. Darin Flynn, chair in the division of linguistics at the University of Calgary, contacted me about the possibility of developing a language course offering the Stoney Nakoda language.

I was both excited and anxious. Excited that my goal of one day teaching at the post-secondary level could be a possibility. Anxious because I wondered if I could do it, I have never taught a class in my life.

Let me tell you how this transpired.

It so happened that two Stoney Nakoda students were taking a course with Professor Flynn last winter. I met with one of those students – friend of mine – last spring on campus to catch up. When I told her about my research, she suggested I contact Dr. Flynn. Apparently, he was interested in developing a course on Stoney Nakoda.

I was not sure if I was ready to teach just yet. Still, I was interested. I contacted Cate Hanington, a former colleague. She is the Aboriginal Student Access Program Co-ordinator at The Native Center on campus. After meeting with her, she said she would send out an email to Dr. Flynn.

Dr. Flynn emailed shortly after. After some discussion, he suggested I assist him in teaching the course. When I mentioned that Dr. Warren Harbeck, a linguist with extensive knowledge in the Stoney Nakoda language, might be available, he wanted to meet with both of us. Cochrane Eagle readers know Dr. Harbeck better through his column Coffee with Warren.

Since that meeting, Dr. Flynn has successfully lobbied the university to pay for two instructors. It is necessary to cover both history and linguistics in this course.

My position is that if students want to learn our language than they should also learn about our people, our history. A student learning an Aboriginal language must also understand why languages are at risk. This requires an understanding of the colonization process and most importantly, the Aboriginal perspective.

As a doctoral student, my inquiry is on the historical development of the Stoney Nakoda language. Therefore, my role in this course is to provide perspective and context. Dr. Harbeck will lecture on the science of linguistics: the sound system and grammatical structure of the language. Our intent was to deliver a unique, balanced approach to language learning.

Indigenous Languages 205 began January 11, 2017. Although I was prepared, I was nervous. So nervous in fact that my throat went dry. I literally croaked my first words. After drinking some water, I was able to actually speak. I then went through my hour-long presentation in half an hour. But it is a learning process and one I am enjoying.

I would like to thank Elder J.R. Twoyoungmen for his guest lecture. J.R. had a vital role in the Stoney Cultural Education Program in the 1970’s. It is his material and that of others I am referencing in this course. I thought it was only right that he present in our class. Îsniyes Elder Twoyoungmen.


About Author

Trent Fox

Trent Fox is a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Interested in Indigenous issues since high school he has travelled to Australia and Africa to learn about the Aboriginal people and the Asante of Ghana. He earned his undergraduate degree in Native Studies at Brandon University. He has worked as a program administrator for the Wesley Band Administration for ten years, returning to school in 2012. In 2014 he earned his Masters of Education degree and is now a writer, author and doctoral candidate in education at the University of Calgary.