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Travelling this summer? Learn how to say a First Nations ‘hello’ in these five vacation hot spots

By Pieta Woolley


You wouldn’t dream of going to France without brushing up on your clipped Parisian “Bonjour.” So why would you visit Whitehorse without learning to drop “Dä̀nnchʼe?” like a pro?

That is “How are you,” in Southern Tutchone, naturally.

Thanks to the First People’s Cultural Council and the First People’s Cultural Foundation, learning elementary phrases in some Canadian indigenous languages is both easy and accessible by computer, tablet or cell phone. The program is called “First Voices.” Just click on it, and start learning. There’s even a kids site if you’re vacationing with little ones in tow.

Language learning and preservation is a key part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and many public schools and post-secondary institutions across Canada are reflecting the desire for indigenous languages to be taught to both First Nations and Non-First Nations students.

Formal learning is one thing, but everyday casual use, such as “hello” and “what’s up,” is critical in helping to retain languages. And with First Voices, all Canadians and international linguaphiles are generously invited to participate. 

So if you’re vacationing this summer, use your gruelling, 100-degree drive across Saskatchewan to learn a little.

Here are First Nations “hellos” in five vacation hot spots.

1. Quebec City/Nation Huronne-Wendat traditional territory

You’re there because: Your kid is in French immersion, and you’re a sucker for educational adventures.

First Nation: The Huron-Wendat, whose reserve is within the municipality. In fact, the nation bought a big chunk of what is now Quebec City from the Jesuits 300 years ago.

Say “hello”: ndio

2. Maritime Provinces/Mi’kmaw traditional territory

You’re there because
: You are visiting your family — and scoping out super-affordable waterfront real estate for when you retire.

First Nation: Mi’kmaw Nation, which stretches from Maine to Newfoundland

Say “hello”kwe’

3. Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C.)

You’re there because
: You bought plane tickets there, planning to protest the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, but because it was axed, you’re taking the kayaking trip of a lifetime instead. 

First Nation: Haida Nation, a powerful group who led B.C. in reinstating the original name for the islands in 2009

Say “hello”: Dii guudang.ngaay 'laa ga, dan hll ḵings g̱aaganah (I am happy because I see you.)

4. Whitehorse/Kwanlin Dün traditional territory

Why you’re there
: Sam Magee caught your imagination and wouldn’t let go (Why else do people visit Yukon?).

First Nation: Kwanlin Dün, a self-governing nation since 2005 and part of the Southern Tutchone language group

Say “helloDä̀nnchʼe?

5. Central Alberta/Maskwacis Cree

Why you’re there: You’re driving from Edmonton to Calgary for a post-oil and gas meltdown job interview.

First Nation
: Samson Cree Nation or Maskwacis Cree, which recently renamed their Hobbema reserve made famous by WP Kinsella’s short story collections, including The Miss Hobbema Pageant

Say “hello”: ᒥᐘᓯᐣ ᑮᐠᓭᐸᔭᐤ / (mi)(wa)(sin) [kik](se)(pa)(yaw) (Good Morning.)



Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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