Episode 8: Plains Talk - Saulteaux

This episode follows the work of a virtually self-taught, highly motivated language teacher. Stella Ketchemonia has devoted her life to teaching the Saulteaux language. She is now a member of the dynamic staff of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.


background Saulteaux is the name given to the Ojibwa dialect of the western Plains. After Cree, Ojibwa are the second largest Amerindian nation in Canada, constituting 20-25% of the total population. The language is considered to be large and viable, a status it also shares with Cree. Notwithstanding the viability of the language, Saulteaux has been targeted by the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center, as a “language in crisis”. As the body which administers funding coming from the AFN’s Aboriginal Languages Initiative, the SICC has been extremely proactive and innovative in its development of programs for language survival and revitalization.

Part 1

episode eightStella Ketchemonia is a Saulteaux from Kawacatoose, Saskatchewan. She attended residential school for 10 years, where she was forbidden to speak her language, and eventually lost it. As an adult, and after a varied career that included raising eight children and driving a school bus, she decided to reacquaint herself with her language. In 1982, she took a crash course in reading and writing Saulteaux and began teaching, first in her home community of Kawacatoose and ultimately, at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina.

For the past 15 years, Stella has been extremely active in aboriginal education in Saskatchewan. In addition to teaching, she has developed interactive language teaching tools and has become a member of the Saulteaux Language Retention Committee, whose mandate is to oversee curriculum development and teacher training for all the Saulteaux communities in Saskatchewan. Today, Stella is putting finishing touches on a Saulteaux grammar she has authored, entitled "My Little Book", soon to be published.

episode 8The Saskatchewan Indian Federated College was founded in 1976 to provide First Nations Peoples with opportunities for higher education and to reclaim their language and culture. We accompany Stella to her class at the College, where she teaches Saulteaux to 40 students using the KIM kit, a program she designed, consisting of a CD-ROM, flash cards, and posters incorporating aboriginal icons and images, fully adaptable in seven aboriginal languages.

We also accompany Stella on her weekly trek to Kawacatoose, a small community 170 km North of Regina, where she teaches 18 off-campus students in a small room above the area. After class, Stella and a couple of her students drop in on an elderly couple where they can practice on an informal level.

Part 2

part 2Stella’s teaching methods and approaches were essentially ones she dreamed up herself, without the assistance of a teaching methodology or formal educational theories. In the second segment, we will examine attempts to formalize the teaching of Native languages in Saskatchewan.
We later travel to the community of Muskowekwan, northeast of Regina, where teacher Lois Windigo applies the work developed by the Saulteaux “language incises” team, specifically the adult literacy and teacher training courses. We attend a meeting of teachers from five other Saulteaux communities, brought in to work on upgrading their teaching skills.