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Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney Country helping celebrate the Stoney language

“It’s entirely their Nation— These illustrations are all from the Nation, so is the photography, the stories and the knowledge,” Shyba said. “It’s a cultural jewel.”
Indigenous-Alberta

STONEY NAKODA — Celebrating the knowledge, history and culture of Stoney Nakoda First Nation a new book is aiming to capture and preserve the Stoney language for future generations.

Editor and author Tatâga Thkan Wagich (Trent Fox) said working on Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney has been a fun learning experience. 

“Each person has told a very important story and teaching that they have received,” he said.

As part of the project, Fox has been dedicatedly researching the history of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and language. Through his research, it appears the Stoney language, Îethka, is the only language of Sioux that has not been affected by language loss.

He noted one of the more exciting revelations was uncovering the different dialects and pronunciations that exist within the language.

“We all have different ways of pronouncing our words based on the clans. If you look back historically the Nakoda, or what the English people call the Sioux, have always lived in clan groups so they had developed clan dialects,” Fox said. “That’s still true here.”

These regional dialects added to the experience of creating Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney and an impetus was placed on ensuring these differences in language, spelling and pronunciation of words were treated with great care.

Fox initially collaborated with publisher Lorene Shyba to help develop a Stoney language learning resource. Fox later signed on to help edit the anthology of stories by Stoney authors featured in Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney Country.

He also contributed his own story.

“Lorene saw how committed we were to the preservation of our language and our writing system,” Fox said. “It’s a language that has maintained its integrity— It has not been lost.”

The book has been laid out starting with the alphabet system written by Fox, followed by a story written by Îyarhe Wiyapta (Natasha Wesley) on the Stoney number system, Îyâ Sa Wîyâ (Tina Fox) writing on body parts, Mînî Thnî (Trudy Wesley) writing about place names in the Nation and connecting to animals in the region, Elder Chadâ Wathte Wîyâ (Glenda Crawler) wrote a story on hunting with her dad and the book ends with a story from Tina Fox sharing her first day at a Residential School.

The book also includes a glossary on how to pronounce the words and a poetic presentation of Stoney moral values. The written book is complemented by audio recordings for those learning the language.

The book is designed to increase in difficulty as readers learn more about the language. Fox said his hope is at the start of the book readers will begin to recognize sounds and letters from the Stoney alphabet leading them to begin reading the full stories at the end.

He added it was critical to have an audiobook because it helps people recognize and understand how words should sound.

“Each sound is unique,” Fox said. “It’s been an interesting learning process.”

Publisher Lorene Shyba, of Durvile Publications, was on hand to record audio portions of the book at the Chief Goodstoney Rodeo Centre on Thursday (July 8) with Fox, Wesley and Crawler.

Shyba said the book explores the passing of knowledge and how this reflects the Indigenous perspective in comparison to Western culture.

Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney Country marks the first in a series planned by Durvile designed to encourage a revival of Indigenous languages and encourage First Nation people and other Canadians to practice speaking these languages.

“These languages are so diverse and there's so much beauty in the intention behind the language that is so different than English,” Shyba said. “We’re so used to defining material things and their languages are so much more focussed on the, shall we say, the spiritual or the elements of nature.”

It has been exciting to begin this journey because of the rich Indigenous languages that are present in Canada. Shyba noted even within the Stoney language group there are distinct dialects to be found.

Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney Country features seven stories that have enthusiastically been brought together to celebrate Stoney's knowledge, culture and language. The stories and illustrations come from Nation Elders and knowledge keepers.

“It’s entirely their Nation— These illustrations are all from the Nation, so is the photography, the stories and the knowledge,” Shyba said. “It’s a cultural jewel.”

“It leaves no doubt that there was such a strong influence of beauty and culture in their way of life,” Shyba said. “It’s the oral history.”

She added one can feel the joy in the audio recording when authors shared their stories.

Shyba praised Indigenous filmmaker and author of We Remember the Coming of the White Man Oral Histories by Dene Elders Raymond Yakeleya  for his help in bringing the series to life. Yakeleya helped guide and ensure the Indigenous voices are represented in an authentic way during publication.

Shyba said it has been an honour to work on the project and help celebrate and preserve the Stoney language. Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney Country is designed for an age group that starts at about Grade 7 through High School.

As a collective, the authors decided the revenue and royalties raised through the Department of Canadian Heritage and sale of the audiobook and book will be given back to the community for a scholarship.

“The community is trying to find ways to build confidence with the young people so that they are speaking the language so that they are continuing their culture— They’ve got opportunities that go beyond some of the problems that the Nation faces,” Shyba said.

Îethka: Stoney Language in Stoney Country will be released to the public as a paperback on audiobook on Nov. 1.

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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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