A residential school survivor’s incredible journey to save his language
Credits: Global News
Published on Feb 21, 2019
As an 11-year-old boy, Armand McArthur was punished for speaking Nakoda, the language he grew up speaking, and was forbidden from using it while a student at one of Canada’s infamous residential schools in Lebret, Saskatchewan. Nuns would whip him and wash his mouth out with soap for speaking “the devil’s language.” The abuse he faced was so severe, he ran away in the spring of 1958, spending nearly a month trying to find his way home. Fortunately, McArthur made it home alive, but the memories of the journey still stick with the 70-year-old, including one occasion in which he had to steal food from dogs to survive. After decades the systematic undermining and destruction of Indigenous culture caused by residential schools, McArthur has partnered with First Nations University in Regina to re-establish his native tongue. With less than 100 Nakoda speakers left in North America, the obligation to pass on the language of the Pheasant Rump First Nation is even more urgent. But sharing his dialect is difficult and painful. After more than 50 years of being silenced, Nakoda has fallen behind on discovering and creating new words to describe modern technologies and common slang. 2019 marks the United Nation’s International Year of Indigenous Languages.