Celebrating Indigenous culture through language

No organization can exist without language.

Recognizing the importance of language, and how it defines and shapes culture, is why Manitoba Hydro’s theme for our annual Indigenous Awareness Week (IAW) was Keeping Our Language Strong: Now and Into Future. As part of our commitment to reconciliation, this theme shares and celebrates Manitoba’s seven Indigenous languages with our employees — a topic that has been embraced worldwide to counter historical campaigns that aimed to extinguish Indigenous languages by criminalizing their use.

A diagram of Indigenous languages traditionally spoken in our home province of Manitoba.

A diagram of Indigenous languages traditionally spoken in our home province of Manitoba.

As part of our reconciliation journey, this year Manitoba Hydro shares and celebrates the seven Indigenous languages in Manitoba with our employees. Language-focused Indigenous Awareness Week (IAW) events were available virtually to all employees across the corporation from May into June.

“Despite the importance of Indigenous languages, they are in danger of disappearing in Canada,” said Maria M’Lot of Indigenous & Community Relations at Manitoba Hydro. “It is important to preserve and promote these languages, as they strengthen a sense of identity and belonging in everyday life. That’s why we’re showcasing approaches and efforts being made in Manitoba to recover, reclaim, maintain and normalize Indigenous languages as a key element in the reconciliation journey.”

​Indigenous Awareness Week is recognized annually in Canada from May 21 to 25 as an opportunity to raise awareness about and honour First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures. First introduced in 1992 to increase awareness of Indigenous peoples within the federal public service, it has since evolved into a broader celebration across Canada. Our focus on language is based on worldwide efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages around the globe.

“The state of Indigenous languages is such a concern that UNESCO declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages,” said M’Lot. “Many Indigenous communities have already set up their own systems of revitalizing their languages, and that is what we’re hoping to share with employees.”

To help reach almost 5,000 employees across the province, Manitoba Hydro expanded these IAW celebrations into weekly virtual events in May and June, leading up to the Canadian National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.

“Gaining understanding or appreciation about Indigenous culture and history is important for all of us,” said Jeff Betker, Manitoba Hydro’s Vice-President of External & Indigenous Relations and Communications.

“Through our operations and presence in Indigenous communities across the province, and as one of Manitoba’s largest employers of Indigenous Peoples, we have a duty to know about our history and be respectful in our interactions.”