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Experts and supporters from around the globe were called to a special meeting at the United Nations in January 2016 to address the deep crisis faced by Indigenous language communities all around the world. The statistical measures of the language crisis are staggering. Scholarly calculations project 90 percent of the globe’s almost 6,800 languages are on a course to fall silent during the lifetime of the children that are now being born into the world. UNESCO has estimated that, on average, a language is being lost every two weeks.


On a cool, overcast afternoon in late spring, a small group of First Nations, Métis, and non-Indigenous university students work together to erect a mîkiwahp (Plains Cree for tipi) on a plot of land an hour north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. For most of the students it is their first time setting up a mîkiwahp, but with the guidance of Barry Ahenakew, a nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) knowledge keeper, the students soon have it ready to provide shelter from the coming rain.


This article contains excerpts from an investigative documentary radio program produced by Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio Producer, Rosy Gonzalez.


I was raised in a nomadic pastoralist community; I know firsthand the importance of owning a cow. My parents always reminded me that ‘a cow is life.’ The older I got, the more I started to witness the truth of that advice. In a pastoralist community, cattle are a source of food, pride, prestige, wealth, and status. Men with big herds of cattle hold leadership positions and young men cannot marry unless they have accumulated enough cattle for dowry. In the pastoralist communities, a cow is the source of life and also the cause of death.


On the outskirts of Santa Cruz village in the Toledo district of Belize stands a small shack on top of a lush green hill. The structure itself is unassuming, barely visible from the southern highway below. Thick forest partially obscures it from view and adds to its perceived insignificance. The average passerby would not think twice about this tiny house, but to the villagers of Santa Cruz it towers like a skyscraper, casting an ominous shadow over their community.


CSQ 40-2 Our Cultures, Our Lands, Our Rights

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