A new project titled Celebrating Indigenous Languages aims to raise awareness and preservation efforts for Indigenous languages. The project can be found in Voyager on Google Earth, a storytelling platform with an education slant. The program is part of celebrating 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages and gathered more than 50 different languages globally.
“It is a human right to be able to speak your own language,” says Tania Haerekiterā Tapueluelu Wolfgramm in a Google statement, a Māori and Tongan person who works as an educator and activist in Aotearoa–the Māori name for New Zealand–and other Pacific countries. “You don’t have a culture without the language.”
Tania is one of several dozen Indigenous language speakers, advocates and educators who helped create the tour. Thanks to their contributions, people can click on locations meaningful to Indigenous speakers and hear people offer traditional greetings, sing songs, or say common words and phrases in their languages.
Users learn about languages by clicking on a button that introduces users to an Indigenous language and a person who speaks it. The speakers respond to a few questions like, “Can you share a traditional song in your language?” A short blurb on each language informs readers on the history of the language, threats they have faced, and what speakers are doing to overcome those obstacles.<
“I do this not for myself, but for my children and grandchildren, so that in the future, they’ll hear our language,” says Dolores in a Google statement, who recorded audio in her native Plains Cree.
Not everyone is a fan of the project, though, as scholar Jennifer Wemigwans criticized the project on being “kind of like cultural tourism” to CBC. Wemigwans, who is Anishnaabekwe (Ojibwe/Potawatomi) from Wikwemikong First Nation, and assistant professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto criticized the tech company for not going deeper with the project, saying “It was very short. It was, you know, kind of like: ‘Who are you, and can you tell us what this language is, and [sing] a song.’ And that was it.”