How Technology is Saving Native Tribe Languages | Darrick Baxter | TEDxWinnipeg

Translator: Simone Cuozzo
Reviewer: Denise RQ My first love is creating apps
that help people. That’s why I created
the Ojibway language app, to help teach my 12-year-old daughter
how to speak Ojibway. Like any parent, I bought her books,
and I bought her CDs. I even bought her books with CDs (Laughter) but they failed in their intended purpose. She never learnt Ojibway,
and many of the books still lie unopened. I wonder if I still have the receipts. When you think about it, books really aren’t a great way
to teach the language. Around that time, I had just bought her
a brand new iPad, about four years ago. And she used it every day. She loved it, she thought
it was the coolest thing, and she never put it down. I decided to use that connection to teach and have her learn
some basic Ojibway. I spent about a month
creating the Ojibway language app. I never intended to release it
or even share it with anyone. A couple of weeks later, I was sitting
at my kitchen table quietly, and I heard my daughter speaking Ojibway. She was on the phone with her grandmother. She was using the app,
she was speaking Objibway; that was truly a magical moment,
and it touched my heart. And I knew that I had to share
the app with everyone. I wanted every parent to experience
that magical moment. when their child is speaking
their native language. So that’s what I did,
I released the app for free. And I can tell you that the next time
I saw the app being used was by my three-year-old daughter. She was using the app to count to five in Ojibway
and say a few other words, and I just happened to catch it on video. Let’s take a look. That’s great, so, with my first app
in the App Store, I can tell you that I received
a lot of criticism. And the first piece of advice
I got right away was, “You should sell the app for 99 cents,
don’t release the app for free, don’t give it away.” The next piece of advice I got
was from a famous celebrity investor. He said, “I don’t see
the value in it, I’m out.” Come to think of it. I forgive them. Neither of them realized
the magnitude of language extinction. It’s estimated that if nothing is done, nearly half of 6,000 plus languages
spoken today will disappear by the end of the century. After releasing the app to the App Store
and distributing it for free, I wanted to do more. I still felt that that wasn’t enough.
I had to do more. There were so many other
languages that needed help, and I decided to follow
with this just crazy idea, just an idea I’ve always wanted to do. “Why not release
the app source code for free? And allow every single tribe to download it, and use it,
and distribute it?” And I could tell you the same critics
that were giving me advice then, called me insane. So that’s what I did, I released the source code online,
and I distributed it for free. And I noticed that a lot of the tribes started using the source code, and my phone started ringing
at weird hours of the night from numbers that I didn’t recognize. When you release something online, like anything, like source code,
it truly goes global. I found myself talking
with the Sami tribe, the tribal government of Norway, giving them advice
on how to create a language app. A tribe in New Zealand,
a tribe in Australia, a tribe in North America as well. I started out also training
some of these tribes to create their own language apps
and empowering these tribes. But right here, at home, a grand chief from Northern Manitoba
heard about what I was doing, and he shared a story with me
about residential schools. Now, I’ve never been
to residential schools, but I can imagine how difficult
it was for him to share. If you don’t know
what residential schools are – or boarding schools,
as they’re commonly known as – they were government-funded institutions
designed to assimilate the Indian often using brutal methods. He started out by saying, “The nuns
in residential schools would tell me that they were going to kill my language. I never realized what they meant
until 30 years later.” When he found that his son
couldn’t speak Cree. Now, accomplishing something
of great magnitude is by no means a one-person job. We need help. And that reminds me of a story of
when my youngest daughter was 3 years old from the time she could walk,
like any child, she always wanted to help. So one day, we went grocery shopping, and I gave her a bag of oranges
to carry into the house. She walked all the way down the street,
and she walked all the way up the walk. And when she got
to the bottom of the stairs, she said, “Dad, I can’t do it.” So I walked past her with my hands full, and I said, “Yes, you can!
Believe in yourself.” Moments later, she comes into
the house with nothing in her hands, and I said, “Baby, what happened?” And she said, “Mum believed in herself!” (Laughter) And that was the girl
that you saw there in the video. Accomplishing something
of great magnitude is by no means a one-person job. We all have a responsibility
to save these tribal languages. Since releasing the Ojibway app,
we’ve had over 100,000 downloads. And since releasing the source code, we’ve had over 40,000 downloads. It’s estimated that our source code,
and the work that we’re doing is helping to create over
60 language apps. and that is, by no means,
me doing it alone; that’s the help of teachers, that’s the help of students,
and that’s the help of parents. What’s it like to get a phone call from a tribe that has only
two or three living speakers left? Well, I’ve gotten a few of these calls, and I could tell you
that it’s very humbling. Their languages could be gone tomorrow,
their elders could be gone tomorrow taking with them thousands of words,
thousands of phrases, and hundreds of years of oral history. Together, all those language apps, it’s estimated that they have
200,000 downloads. So the next time you look
in your smartphone, why not download an app
and learn how to speak in a new way? You’ll be helping to strengthen
global languages today. Thank you. (Applause)

15 Replies to “How Technology is Saving Native Tribe Languages | Darrick Baxter | TEDxWinnipeg

  1. Is it possible for you to inspire yourself? Listening to this video really inspires me more so every day. I just love the TEDx stage and never felt that I would share it with all these amazing people. I just had one small message and an even smaller story but TEDx gave me an opportunity to share my heart with beautiful people. I love this so much.

  2. Very inspiring and important language preservation work in a format accessible to Native Americans and tribes in Canada, as well as everyone in the Universe!

  3. I have downloaded the app and continue to let others know, who, like me, are struggling to learn the language. I once wished that Ojibway would be available through processes like Rosetta Stone etc. I see it is possible. I hope you realize the incredible gift you have given us and know that there are people out there who honor it. Meegwetch!

  4. I teach my peoples language to students K thru 8.  What is needed is curriculum that engages the students home so it goes beyond the classroom.  We need to educate the entire family not just the one student.

  5. Ottomma an pyth ny wonn vy konvedhez. Here´s what I don´t get. In order to make the app he had to be able to speak the language. Rag gul an app rez o dhodho kewsel an yeth. Ha gans henna prag na wre kewsel an yeth orth an flogh diworth an dalleth. Therefore why not just speak the language to the child from the outset. That way she would have learned it naturally. Yndella hi a´s dyskse dell usyyz. Marnaz onan a´n gerens yw fest lowr. Just one of the parents is enough. I´ve seen several cases of this myself. My re welas hemma nebez tro ow honan. An kaletter yw, a vynn an flogh pesye gans an yeth woze gaze an chi? The problem is whether the child will continue using the language after leaving home. Will they ´own´ it, or see it simply as something to be left behind with childhood? A vynn hi y fiwe, poken y gwelez avel neppyth dhe voz gezyz gans flogholeth?

  6. This video was very insightful and proves just how important it is for us to revitalize indigenous languages before they are lost forever. I am interested in taking part in this movement by working on an app in my ancestral language (Mohawk) but am unsure how to go about this. Can you please provide me some tips/advice on this. Also, how can I access the source code and use it for my language? Thank you in advance and great talk. I really enjoyed learning about you efforts to revitalize your language.

  7. Man, I loved your talk!!! We're just wondering about the same things here in North Afirca in our efforts to revive native Amazigh (Berber) dialects.

  8. Looking forward to hearing/meeting Darrick Baxter at this week's Native Innovation Education Technology Conference.

    Fave quote:
    08:50 The next time you're looking at your smartphone, why not download an app and learn how to speak in a new way?

  9. I got into Chiricahua a while back. My stepdad was from the Hickory tribe in New York. He taught at SFA and I watched loads of Indian movies and docs with him including some on Geronimo which stuck with me the most. I was born where the Caddo once lived though. Their language is the where they got the name Texas. So I started searching Caddo and found that Arikara is available and is related to Caddo. And I’m growing Osage trees so I also added Osage to my list of languages from around here to learn. Which is a Siouan. These language families connect us while giving us identity where we live and though no more Hasinai Caddo live here in Nacogdoches I still feel somehow connected to it. Though my stepdad was an adopted member of the Hickory tribe and Sam Houston adopted member of the Cherokee these cultures still have ways of inspiring we are only beginning to understand and like Geronimo used his power for taking a stand maybe that’s my power. What’s truly valuable in life is when you find what gives you power.

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