Indigenous communities outreach

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Canadian Aboriginal Languages projects

Boîte à outil. Langues et savoirs autochtones dans les projets Wikimédia (French, 2017), PDF.
Créer et administrer une Wikipédia. Enjeux, opportunités et boîte à outils pour les Premières Nations, (French, 2017), PDF.

The project vision is to preserve all Canadian languages and make knowledge freely available in all Canadian languages through the use of Wikimedia projects. The goal of the project is to reach Aboriginal communities and familiarize indigenous language speakers with Wikipedia and possibly sister projects in order for Aboriginal language Wikipedias to become active with developing content. We need to understand that language's importance to Aboriginal people is immense and bears an important social and emotional aspect. Canadian indigenous languages are also an integral part of the Canadian culture making the country one of the most linguistically diverse in the World.

"Language is the main tool permitting to enrich the culture, to receive, share and pass on the knowledge from generation. The key to identity and to conservation of the culture of a person is his ancestral language." - Assembly of First Nations

To achieve this goal, experienced volunteers will need to present what is Wikipedia (and the Incubator) and how to use it to interested Aboriginal groups and persons; different ways can be used, but a face-to-face meeting with interested people will have much greater concrete results. A continuing cooperation will need to be established between those experienced Wikipedians and the Native contributors. Different approaches need to be used according to the goals and intents of the Aboriginal groups, including but not limited to developing teaching materials and involving students in the writing of Wikipedia articles. Cooperation can also be established with organizations having the same goal by showing them how Wikimedia projects can be used to achieve their mission.

If you have any questions about this project, don't hesitate to come on the talk page.

Program Coordinator:

Jean-Philippe Béland
Email: jpbeland(at)



There are around 60 distinct indigenous languages in Canada of 11 different language families none of which are related with European language families.[1][2] A lot of them are vulnerable or in danger of extinction and even some of them has no known living speakers according to surveys.[3][4] While it's not the Wikimedia Foundation's main goal, those languages themselves are part of the World knowledge and offering a free way to preserve and share them fits perfectly within the vision of the Foundation and it will also increase the access to the World's knowledge in their own language for Aboriginal communities. Every time a language dies, it's a unique knowledge that is lost forever.

Currently there are only two existing Wikipedias in Canadian indigenous languages, Cree and Inuktitut, both are unfortunately mostly inactive. 11 other Wikipedias in Canadian Aboriginal languages have been created in the Incubator, but none are yet considered active.

Indigenous languages are an integral part of the Canadian culture. Each of different language has its own history and represents a distinctive culture. Languages' importance to Aboriginal people and communities is tremendous. It's in fact what define their identities. However, those languages are disappearing and at least ten languages have been completely extinct in the last century.[5] Several Aboriginal communities had undertaken revival programs for their languages in the recent years including projects to record what remains of the languages before it's too late using different methods like creating dictionaries and recording elders. That's where Wikimedia can get involved by offering those communities a low-cost option and support for their projects.



The main challenge in developing Wikipedias in Aboriginal languages is obviously the small number of fluent speakers. Even the three most viable languages, Cree, Ojibwe and Inuktitut, are showing signs of regression.The fact that most speakers are over the age of 65 is also a challenge and a fact showing the emergency of the situation. A big concern is the fact that those speakers don't have the knowledge neither the resources and, in a lot of cases, the capability to directly contribute to Wikipedia.

Other challenges include the ones faced by the Aboriginal communities themselves including geographic location which are often very remote, band status which in some cases dictactes how the resources will be used and infrastructures which are often inexistent or inadequate. The survival and sustainability of a language is only possible if the young people learn it and use it, but, for them do so, they need to see value in it. The lack of contemporary concepts in indigenous languages often pushes the young people to revert to English or French.



To achieve success we need to not force our approach to potential partners, but enhance their own goals by the use of Wikimedia projects, primarily Wikipedia. Since using the languages on an every-day basis and at school is the best solution to save them, the focus of projects cannot and shouldn't be solely on Wikipedia, but preferably with Wikipedia as a tool in an overall community based and driven project. Below are some possible avenues of approach.

The key thing to remember no matter what's the chosen approach is the importance of making it simple for the Native contributors.

Using Wikipedia in teaching the languages


Several communities have community-based language teaching programs since they can't rely on school programs. An approach is to get involve with and support those existing initiatives. Some schools in Aboriginal communities also have indigenous language programs where we can get involve with teachers or even school boards.

Teachers and volunteers teaching an indigenous language can use Wikipedia as a tool. Experienced Wikipedians can help those teachers in developing teaching material directly on the Wikipedia, having the great advantage of being freely available to all after.

Teachers can also use Wikipedia as a medium for their students to practice the language. Using computers can be more interesting for young people learning the language than normal pen and paper exercises.



A lot of Canadian universities have an Aboriginal studies department which can be use to promote the use of Wikimedia projects as a tool to preserve and record those languages. Examples of those are the Interuniversity Centre for Aboriginal Studies and Research based at the University Laval in Quebec City, the First Nations Languages Program of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute of the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the Unama'ki College of the Cape Breton University in Sydney. There is also specialized centres and institutes dedicated in teaching or preserving Natives languages such as the Yukon Native Language Centre and the En'owkin Centre.

Wikimedia Canada presence at relevant Aboriginal fairs and venues could also be a way to promote Wikimedia projects.



Ideas of recording elders who speak the language has been brought up. Those could be uploaded on Commons and ways to valorize them will need to be discussed. One possibility is to make them available on the Google's Endangered Languages Project.

GLAM projects


Initiate projects similar to GLAM projects with cultural organizations dedicated to the preservation, teaching and sharing of Aboriginal cultures and languages.

Presentations or workshops could be done in order to reach professionals and volunteers involved in those organizations and show them how Wikimedia projects offer them a low-cost option to globally share Aboriginal cultures and languages.

Support in languages' modernization


The lack of contemporary concepts in indigenous languages is one of the many factors explaining their regression. So, modernization needs to occur and some initiatives are already in place for that such as the Cree Health Board in Quebec who creates new words for health terms. A Wiktionary could be used as a medium to share and record those news terms. It could also offer an online platform for cooperation between different groups working to develop terms on a same language or with specialists of a given domain.

Example: Qaqasauraq. Noun. The modern Inupiaq term for a computer. Loosely translated, it means “little brain.”

Languages teaching projects


Online languages teaching could be developed within a WikiProject in Wikiversity. Those could include recordings to learn the pronunciation, grammar lessons and related topics. It would be using Wikimedia projects to directly learn the languages online. Some organizations have already undertaken a similar approach, Wikimedia could be a low-cost option for them if we are able to make it simple enough.

Digitazing references


Written books and documents in indigenous languages exist, such as the Bible in a lot of languages. Wikimedia Canada could offer its support to digitize those and make them freely available to everybody online through Wikisource, given that it's possible to do so while respecting copyright. It's also a possbility for references about the language, examples of those already exist on Google Books.



The process for each individual project will be divided in three phases. The initial phase consists of contacting the organization and setting up a first meeting if they show interest. The second phase will be the organization of the project according to the intent identified in the initial phase and the start-up of the activities. The final phase will see a continuing cooperation between experienced Wikimedians and the Native contributors of the project. An after action report will be completed after each project in order to assess the factors of success and to review this process to improve it. This plan needs to be kept flexible because course of action of each project shall be dictated by the intent of the Aboriginal group.

Initial phase


The first step of the initial phase is to contact Aboriginal organizations or persons to gauge interest and to simply show them the opportunities. A two-ways discussion needs to be set up in order to identify the intent and goals of the Aboriginal group and to identify what Wikimedia projects can offer them according to those. It may be necessary to have a face-to-face meeting as early as the initial phase for properly showing what Wikimedia projects, primarily Wikipedia, can offer and to overcome the first impression of difficulties that using it can have on people not familiarized with it or with computers at all. A key factor at this point is to make everything simple for the Native contributors; experienced contributors need to take care of all the technical aspects of Mediawiki, so Native contributors can focus purely on adding content.

Operational phase


The second phase will be the concrete activities of the project, but will first see the organization of the project. A plan will be written for the specific project and funds will be requested if needs be. The Aboriginal group needs to be involve in the organization process for mission success because they will be the ones delivering it at the end. The plan needs to underline specific goals that both parties want to achieve and how we will do it. During the planning process, it's important to keep in mind that the Aboriginal group has the lead and that Wikimedia Canada is supporting them.

Once the plan is in place, the activities will start with a cooperation between the Wikimedians involved and the Native contributors.

Final phase


Ideally, the final phase is continuous. It will see the Native contributors continue to contribute to Wikimedia projects in their language and the ultimate goal is to see their Wikipedia, or other projects, become active and sustainable on its own. However, we need to understand that this ultimate goal won't be achievable often and doesn't mean that a project within this scope failed because we don't achieve it (see factors to evaluate success below).

In some projects, the final phase won't be continuous. That will happen if the project concern a specific timeframe with a specific group like a teacher and his class for example. However, it's important to keep contact with the Natives involved to put in place new projects in the future.

Once the final phase is on-going or finished, an after action report will be completed to assess the points to sustain and the points to improve. The whole project's process will be reviewed and adapted, if needs be, according to this report. All lessons learned need to be recorded and kept for future projects. It's also important to get feedback from the Native contributors involved to see how we can improve this process from their point of view and to identify what else can be done.



Wikimedia Canada does not currently have an operating budget capable of financially supporting projects. However, the Wikimedia Foundation has a grant program for projects with the goal of improving Wikimedia projets such as Wikipedia: Wikimedia Foundation Grants. Wikimedia Canada can support and execute the grant request process with the Wikimedia Foundation as well as managing the funds once the grant is approved.

Example of an approved grant from the Wikimedia Foundation for a projet with an Aboriginal community in Canada: Grants:PEG/Atikamekw knowledge, culture and language in Wikimedia projects

External ways of funding may be explored for this project if anything concrete gets in place. Examples of those are:

British Columbia


Northwest Territories


Evaluating success


Factors to evaluate success of specific projects within this scope are:

  1. Increase in the activity and content on Aboriginal Wikimedia projects
  2. New contributors speaking Canadian indigenous language on Wikimedia projects
  3. New contributors supporting Aboriginal Wikimedia projects
  4. Specific project goals achievement

Individual projects under this project











List of related links and resources

Notes and references

  1. With the exception of Michif which is a mix of Cree and French.
  2. Languages of Canada on Ethnologue
  3. List of endangered languages in Canada on Wikipedia
  4. Note that even a dead language can be considered, see the Yawenda Project (in French) where a language whose the last speaker died in 1870s had began to be taught again; or the Eyak Language Project, a revitalization project for the Eyak language whose last speaker died in 2008.
  5. It is estimated that there were around 450 languages spoken in Canada at the time of first European contact. On those, there are only around 60 indigenous languages remaining today.