Episode 4: Language of the North - Naskapi

This episode deals with the how the Naskapi Development Corporation has spearheaded the promotion of the Naskapi language, history and culture. They are currently involved with projects such as computerization of the Naskapi Lexicon and a Naskapi language translation of the Bible.


season 2 episode 4Kawawachikamach is a reserve located near the Quebec-Labrador border and 15 km northeast of Schefferville. Today close to 570 people live in Kawawachikamach, the only Naskapi community in the Naskapi nation in Quebec.

Originally a nomadic people, the Naskapi lifestyle revolved around the caribou herds. Travelling with their families in small groups, they followed the hunt. The Naskapi eventually gave up this way of life with the arrival of the Fur Trade. This dramatic change eventually almost destroyed the Naskapi. To prevent this from happening the Naskapi accepted a proposal to live with the Montagnais of Matimekosh, not far from Schefferville. In 1978 with the signing of the Northeastern Quebec Agreement, the Naskapi acquired their own permanent territory. Ironically the site which they acquired was their own former hunting and fishing camp site. The territory measured 4.144 square kilometers.

season 2 episode 4Part 1

It is here we meet George Guanish of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach. An administrative translator, George serves on the Naskapi Curriculum Development Committee and the Naskapi Education Committee. George talks about the work he has done on the Bible translation and what his work means to him.

The project to increase native content in the schools, was instituted in the 70's. It receivedseason 2 episode 4 the full fledge support of researchers like Bill Jancewicz who lived in Kawawachikamach for 10 years. He helped create the syllabics language software essential to produce educational materials.

We meet Sandy Robinson, a Cree from Manitoba, he met his Naskapi wife during his student days. He decided to follow her back to her home and has been living in Kawawachikamach ever since. It's been 20 years and for the past 5 years he's been the principal here. Sandy Robinson: " Naskapi is the first and dominant language of the school, and then we teach English from grade 3 and up, and from grade 4 they start to learn French. So, after grade 4, they're learning 3 languages, and all through high school, they learn English most of the time, with some courses in French as well."

season 2 episode 4Part 2

The mandate of the Naskapi Development Corporation, formed in 1979, is to foster education, improve living conditions, and to assist in the preserving of the Naskapi way of life, language and culture.

Silas Nabinacaboo has worked at the Naskapi Development Corporation in Naskapi translation since 1996. Born in the Naskapi community, Silas is a fluent speaker of the language and through his work in processing Naskapi and English texts on the computer, he is fast gaining respect as a Naskapi language specialist. We talk to Silas about his role at the Development Corporation and meet some of the people he has worked with.

season 2 episode 4Language Keeper

Joe Guanish speaking Naskapi:

"When I began working with young people, I taught them based on a book. The children were undisciplined I drew the things that I had to teach them and distributed sheets of paper. They preferred to fight among themselves. They saw what I wanted to teach them but they were not able to absorb it and refused to give me their attention. But when we brought them into the woods they understood my teachings. Everything went well from then on. I am very happy about this."

In addition to passing on the traditional Naskapi way of life to the younger generation, Joe Guanish is one of the people helping design teaching materials for children. He makes an invaluable contribution through his work.