'It's our inherent right': Anishinaabemowin language app features Hamilton community members

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Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg, a multi-service Indigenous organization in Hamilton, has launched an Anishinaabemowin language app to reconnect people with the language and improve access to learning. 

Executive director Monique Lavallee said they created the free app to continue to "light that fire" community members have to learn Anishinaabemowin. 

She said people have come to Niwasa saying that something was "missing," but not knowing what it was — learning the language, Lavallee says, is "healing medicine." 

While Niwasa offers language classes, Lavallee said they wanted to take it one step further by making an app for first-time learners. 

"It's our inherent right to be born into our language and unfortunately, because of our history, that hasn't happened," she said. "We want to make sure that Indigenous people have as much access to language [as possible]." 

The app has over 500 words and phrases under 24 different categories — such as numbers, food and conversation — as well as games and quizzes to test people's knowledge. It also allows users to record themselves and play the audio back. 

Everyone pictured in the app is from the Niwasa community, including youth, parents, teachers and elders. 

Kelly Jonathan, Niwasa's cultural lead for the past 20 years and a knowledge keeper, said that there are only a couple of people who have enough fluency in the area to carry a conversation.

Jonathan, who teaches Anishinaabemowin, said that having this app means people can learn without him in the room. It also means he'll have more people to talk to. Even in its month-long soft launch, Jonathan said, people were able to pick up on words they had just learned.