Who we are
We are a diverse group of individuals from a variety of backgrounds who have come together because of our shared passion for enabling and empowering indigenous languages of Canada to survive and thrive in the 21st century. Though we are currently composed mainly of linguists, policy-makers, researchers, and elders, we encourage anyone who is interested in supporting the indigenous languages of Canada to join, or at least learn a little more about what we do. Below you will find more information about the meaning of our organization's name and logo, and short biographies of some of the people who are involved with FEL Canada.
About our name
In 2013, the international organization known as Foundation for Endangered Languages (UK) hosted the FEL XVII conference, Endangered Languages Beyond Boundaries at Carleton University in Ottawa. The conference highlighted the growing interest, concerns and and collaborative efforts in the preservation, maintenance and revitalization of Indigenous languages across Canada. Discussions during the conference wrap-up led to a proposal that a dedicated Canada-based effort be started to strengthen First Nation, Inuit and Métis languages in Canada, in recognition of the urgency of challenges associated with their survival. This organization, which was inaugurated in early 2015, is known as FEL Canada.
Although we are administratively autonomous, we have kept “FEL” in our name as a way of recognizing where we came from, and to show our solidarity with FEL (UK)’s work internationally. But rather than referring to ourselves using the longer label “Foundation for Endangered Languages Canada”, we have chosen to use only the shorter name, “FEL Canada”. The main reason for this is that we’re not focused on language endangerment. Rather, as our byline states, our primary purpose is a positive one: to strengthen First Nation, Inuit and Métis languages in Canada.
About our logo
Our logo is a combination of three elements that represent the spirit and the language of the peoples of this land: a raven feather; a letter in the roman script used for many of our languages; and a character in the unique syllabic script used for other languages.
The raven is found across our land, from the high Arctic , along the coasts of all three oceans, and into the heart of the continent. For many of our peoples, the raven carries special significance as the bearer of language. For some, holding a raven’s feather confirms the right to speak in an assembly. In diverse parts of the world, large feathers like the one in the logo have been used for more than a thousand years as an instrument for writing.
Today, we also share writing as a symbol for our living, spoken words. The roman script is used for most languages of our land: Métis, many First Nation languages, and often for Inuktitut. Like many of the peoples who are guests in this land, this script came from Europe; and before this, it was brought to Europe from Asia. In the same way, the unique syllabic script used at times for Inuktitut, Cree and other languages, binds many of us together, from one nation to another.
Belinda Daniels, President
Belinda Daniels founder of nēhiyawak Language Experience Inc. (Since 2003)
Saskatoon Public School Division & National Collaborating Centre on Indigenous Education, Canada
Her maternal grandparents raised Belinda Daniels in her home community of Sturgeon Lake, SK. Later in life after undergraduate studies, she began a journey in language recovery, self-taught and now teaches others how to teach Cree in the summer with the Canadian Indigenous Language and Development Institute and the nēhiyawak Summer Language Experience Inc. and other First Nations Reserves to help raise awareness in language recovery and reclamation. She does all this with the help of a cohort she created and founded (nēhiyawak summer language camp). Belinda is currently a Ph.D. Candidate with the University of Saskatchewan in the Interdisciplinary Department, Graduate Studies. Belinda has been recognized by the Canadian Teachers Federation and has been given the Outstanding Aboriginal Educator Award 2015. Recognized Globally and one of top 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize 2016. She not only teaches full time, write curriculum at a National level for the National Collaborating Center on Indigenous Education but volunteers on several boards such as Foundation for Endangered Languages (Canada) Sturgeon Lake Education (her community) and in the past for United Way, Station 20 West and Dr. Sterling McDowell Foundation. She is also a peer mentor for new and up and coming educators at a community level.
Serena D'Agostino, Secretary
Serena is an Italian anthropologist (University of Rome, 1997) who spent 30 years living in Canada. She has learnt a lot from Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom and believes they are vital for the future of our planet. Since 2003, she has volunteered with many Endangered Languages projects, including FEL in the United Kingdom, CELIAC in Oaxaca, Mexico, and with FEL Canada. Now back in Italy, she shares positive attitudes from Turtle Island.
Kumiko Murasugi, Treasurer
Kumiko Murasugi is Associate Professor of Linguistics at Carleton University. Her research focuses on the Inuit language in Canada from various perspectives: linguistic structure, dialectal variation, documentation, language change, bilingualism, and language mapping. She is currently working with Carleton’s Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre and Inuit partner organizations across Canada on an online, multimedia atlas of the Inuit language. Kumiko has worked with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization, on their project to standardize the Inuit writing system.
Heather Blair, Communications & Membership Co-Director
I have been a member of FEL since I attended the Conference in Ottawa in 2013. I have been involved in Indigenous languages education since 1976 when I took a teaching position in Stanley Mission Saskatchewan and they had just begun to implement a Cree Bilingual program. I have immersed myself in every opportunity to learn Cree and support Cree in solidarity with my Cree family members. I co-founded The Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacies Development Institute (CILLDI) in 2000 and the Young Indigenous Women's Circle of Leadership in 2009. I believe all Canadians have a moral obligation to support languages' renaissance efforts in this country. These languages and the people who speak them suffered greatly from the imposition of Canada's official languages and there is a lot to be done to reaffirm these languages as the heart, soul and resource that they are to Indigenous people specifically but all Canadians generally. FEL Canada can do a great deal in this regard.
Olenka Bilash, Communications & Membership Co-Director
Olenka Bilash, professor of second language education at the University of Alberta, is one of the proud founding members of FEL. The daughter of an intercultural marriage, she grew up in Manitoba without her father’s language and unable to speak with her grandmother who knew only a few words in English. This propelled her to repair the link in this broken linguistic chain and both of her children and her two grandsons are mother tongue Ukrainian speakers. She attributes this success to the linguistic and social support of family, the Ukrainian language community and its youth and parental organizations. Insight from this lifelong multigenerational experience, including healing from the discrimination experienced by first settlers of some origins, along with proficiency and studies of French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish and work with language policy and language teacher education around the world, including Japan, Korea, South Africa and Ukraine have made her passionate about supporting linguistic diversity and revitalization. Olenka (known as Opastosiw in Cree and Piitaki in Blackfoot) offered the first university credit course in aboriginal language methodology in Alberta (University of Calgary, 1990), was the conceptual designer for numerous Blackfoot, Cree and Tsuu T'ina language resources in the 1980s and 90s and the consultant for the first Cree immersion program in Saskatchewan (Cumberland House,1990s-2000s), has taught University of Alberta off-campus undergraduate and graduate courses for teachers of Blackfoot, Cree, and Dene in Alberta and Saskatchewan and currently serves as North American representative to Linguapax. For stories of the value of multilingualism for youth read the online stories she initiated and collaborated on at linguapaxquest.com
Presently Velvalee Georges is a sessional instructor and PhD student at the University of Alberta. Her research interests and area of study is Literacy, Indigenous language and assessment. She has been the recipient of several awards including the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship and Indigenous Grad student award. She earned an M.Ed at the University of Manitoba in Inclusive Education and a B.Ed at the University of Saskatchewan through SUNTEP, Saskatoon. She was Director of Aboriginal Education, principal, vice principal, special education resource teacher, Aboriginal Education Curriculum Support Teacher and junior/senior high classroom teacher at Winnipeg School Division for 22 years. She is an educator, with 30 years of successful classroom, publication, management and leadership experience. She is Metis, speaks some Cree Michif and is originally from Sakitawak (Ile a la Crosse) SK.
Darlene Olson was born and raised in northern Alberta. She grew up in a family of seven children and has a twin brother. She earned a B.A. in Native Studies, and a B.Ed. from the University of Alberta. Darlene has worked as a classroom teacher/literacy specialist in elementary education and has also worked as a Cree language Consultant. She continues to work in the field of Indigenous Education, and in her other life, she is also an accomplished country music artist. Darlene has served as an FEL Canada board member at large for the past several years.
Adriana Oniță, Newsletter Team
Adriana Oniță is a multilingual poet, artist, educator, and doctoral student. She is pursuing her PhD at the University of Alberta, researching Heritage Language maintenance through the arts. Adriana is also the founding editor of The Polyglot (www.thepolyglotmagazine.com), a multilingual magazine of poetry and art, which has published over 120 poets working in over 40 Heritage and Indigenous languages.
Stephanie is originally from southwestern Ontario, and grew up along the Grand River. She has been involved with many Indigenous language revitalization and documentation projects over the last 10 years. Throughout this incredible journey, she has been honoured to work with Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, East Cree, Innu-aimun, Inuktitut, Mi'kmaq, Ojibwe, and Mitchif. Currently, she is the Projects Coordinator and First Nations Languages Digital Archivist for the Woodland Cultural Centre, and also works closely with the Canadian Language Museum.
She has a Masters in Linguistics from Memorial University, and is passionate about intangible cultural heritage and language.
Dorothy Thunder is a Plains Cree (nêhiyawiskwêw) from Little Pine First Nation, Saskatchewan and full-time Cree instructor in Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. She is a Language Keeper, educator, and an Aboriginal woman who practices the traditional way of life. Her passion for the Cree language began at the U of A, where she completed her BA in Native Studies in June 2002 and MSc in Linguistics in December 2015. She co-authored the book, Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country, which won the Scholarly and Academic Book of the Year in June 2011. In March 2011, she received the Graduate Studies Teaching Award in recognition of excellence in the performance of teaching duties in the Faculty of Native Studies. Being a fluent nêhiyawêwin speaker and instructor has inspired her to continue in developing resource materials and promoting nêhiyawêwin language programs. Her purpose is to assist in strengthening confidence and competence in Cree language skills by supporting educators and nehiyawewin language learners. As an advocator of nehiyawewin, she shares various methodologies to strengthen existing or new Indigenous programs. Her main focus is integrating nehiyaw language and literacy strategies from cultural perspectives of First Nations teachings and the inclusion of Aboriginal stories and teachings.