In late February, as the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages got well underway, our Program Director Tina Raye, headed to Hawaii for the 6th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation.
The conference theme for 2019, 'Connecting Communities, Languages & Technology', struck an immediate chord with Tina, given the work we do in remote parts of Australia, especially in publishing in Indigenous languages. This was exactly what her presentation – “Indigenous Literacy – our voices, our aspirations” – focused on.
“I wanted to spell out how our Community Literacy Projects program contributes to both language maintenance and language revival, and get across that our emphasis is on books produced by the community for the community, in the language they choose.”
Tina shared with conference attendees four of the many projects for children we have published. Kutju, Kutjara, Mankurpa (One, Two, Three) and Nyaa Nyuntu Nyanganyi? (What Can You See?) two board books in Pitjantjatjara, a strong language spoken widely in the APY Lands and surounding areas. Yakanarra Song Book, in Walmajarri, a language of the Kimberley region whose speakers are mainly elders. Wamparla Apira (Possums and Tall Trees) is in Arabana, a language in a critical state with only a handful of native speakers. And the Binjari books in Kriol, including Moli det Bigibigi (Molly the Pig), have been written in a newer “contact” language - Kriol - that emerged on missions, reserves and cattle stations to facilitate everyday communication between Aboriginal people and English speakers.
“Each project is different from the next, as languages and the needs of each community are different,” Tina explained.
The conference audience was varied, with First Nations peoples and language speakers from across the world, academics, linguists and teachers attending. After her session, Tina was “bombarded by people asking questions and wanting to know more about how to publish books, what the costs are and how to engage kids in writing stories”.
As Tina told the conference, “The aim of this program [Community Literacy Projects] is to publish books that represent Indigenous voices and our languages, books that children in remote parts of Australia can see themselves reflected in. And we [ILF] do this by offering support and empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to create books where the content and the language/s are a community decision.”
Back in our Sydney office, Tina reflects on what she gained from attending the conference and how she might apply this knowledge to our programs – and especially our plans to publish eight more books this year. But also personally in her own efforts to contirbute to the revitalisation of her own ancestral languages.
“For me the take-away message was to start small. You can’t afford to become overwhelmed because often that stops you from even starting!”