Episode 6: Language in the City - Ojibway/Anishinabe

This episode focuses on Isadore Toulouse's weekly trajectory to four different urban-based schools where we witness first-hand, and with raw immediacy, his efforts to pass on his own enthusiasm and passion for the Ojibwe language.


episode 6Half of First Nations people in Canada now live off-reserve, in towns and cities where retaining links with Aboriginal culture is much more of a challenge than it is in the midst of one's home community. Toronto is situated in the heartland of the Ojibway or as they prefer to be known, Anishinabe nation. It is the center of a densely populated and highly urbanized area that stretches south to Windsor and North towards the Georgian Bay and thus acts as a powerful magnet for young people seeking work and educational opportunities not available to them in their communities. The potential for losing one's language, already tenuous given the minimal language instruction available in schools, is high.

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It is in this setting that Isadore Toulouse teaches, among Ojibway who are isolated and who often have no one to speak to outside their home. It's what happens in all the places he teaches, despite proximity of reserves. In such circumstances, keeping the language and culture alive and viable is an uphill struggle that requires commitment from both teacher and student.

Isadore Toulouse was born on Manitoulin Island and grew up speaking Ojibway. He credits his grandparents for setting the example that inspired him to devote much of his life to championing the language. He blames the Catholic church (which used to advocate total assimilation) for much of the language loss, for inflicting damage beyond that done by the old residential schools. A teacher for the past 20 years, Isadore now lives in Toronto with his wife and son, a 19-year old actor who speaks the language fluently.students

Isadore juggles four teaching jobs, in communities hundreds of kilometers apart. For the past 10 years, he has taught a daily class at Sutton High School in York, a community Northeast of Toronto. On Tuesday evenings, he drives south to Hamilton where he teaches a course in McMaster University's Indigenous Studies program. On Wednesday evening, following his class in York, he drives to Barrie for a class at Georgian College and on Thursday, he teaches youngsters at Pepperlaw Elementary School, a short distance from York.

In this segment of the program, we accompany Toulouse on his travels, witnessing firsthand the energy and dedication that sustain this "one-man show". We see him in his professional role, teaching and interacting with his students but also catch glimpses of his family life, particularly involving his son who has become a language activist himself.

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Language Keeper

Determined to share her knowledge and love of the language, Bea McCue has spent years teaching Ojibway. Even without community support, she found a way to begin her classes.