Native language immersion teachers program: first of its kind in North America

More than 20 students from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia graduated from St. Thomas University's Native language immersion teacher training program, the first of its kind in North America, on May 12, 2003.

The certificate program was developed by Prof. Andrea Bear Nicholas, Chair in Native Studies at St. Thomas and Prof. Dorothy Lazore, founder of the Mohawk language immersion program at Kahnawake near Montreal.

"There used to be more than 54 Native languages in Canada. By the end of this century it is predicted that there will only be three if strategies do not change drastically," says Prof. Bear Nicholas who led the development and implementation of the program.

Graduates from this program will have the skills to teach children Mi'kmaq or Maliseet, using immersion methodologies, at the pre-school or elementary level.

Professor Bear Nicholas says the best way to save a language is to teach it to young children.

"Little children are like sponges, if we really want our languages to survive we've got to find ways to immerse the children in their language. Classes not taught in immersion, or taught at night simply do not work." The certificate program was approved by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission in February 2003. It includes courses in theory, practice and methods in native language immersion, and linguistics courses and courses taught entirely in Mi'kmaq or Maliseet.

Three Native communities in the Maritimes have begun immersion programs, and several others are in the process of developing them.

"There are half a dozen aboriginal communities already participating, and others that have expressed interest," Dr. Myers says.

He believes that the program will produce a solid number of graduates every year. However, since most of the students are busy as full-time teachers it can take them up to five years of part-time study to complete the courses required to graduate.

Prof. Bear Nicholas and Dr. Myers agree that this program will help to prevent the decline of the two Native languages.

"In time we will not need to promote this program because our fully bilingual children will be the ambassadors for us," says Prof. Bear Nicholas.

"St. Thomas should be very proud of the fact that it's taking concrete steps to preserve these two important aboriginal languages," Dr. Myers says. "Our hope is that -- as time passes -- we will have more and more qualified people here in the region who will be able to contribute to the delivery of the program so that it can have a major impact on strengthening the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet languages."

For further information on the program please contact Prof. Andrea Bear Nicholas at or view the website at http: //

(Mi'kmaq-Maliseet Nations News, June 2003)

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