Creation Stories and Language

Students listen to the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee creation stories and reflect on how these stories have shaped Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee culture. Students learn about how Indigenous ways of knowing and being are contained in Indigenous languages and the impact of colonization on language loss.

Program Details

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Creation Stories and Language


Anishinaabe Great Flood.pdf; Haudenosaunee Sky Woman Falling.pdf; Nature of Indigenous Language.pdf; Nature Needs a New Pronoun.pdf; Water Place Names.pdf; Indigenous Place Names.pdf; Disappearance of Indigenous Languages.pdf; Language Extension Activity.pdf

We recommend inviting an Indigenous community member into the classroom to tell the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Creation stories and talk about the significance of Indigenous languages. 

  • Teacher reads students the Anishinaabe creation story found in the Anishinaabe Great Flood.pdf and Haudenosaunee creation story found in the Haudenosaunee Sky Woman Falling.pdf.
  • Teacher asks students to identify lessons from the stories. 
  • Teacher leads a discussion with students regarding how the Creation Story for each culture shapes the way that that group interacts with the land and thinks about the natural world.
Language and Language Revitalization
  • Facilitator discusses with teachers how the Indigenous worldview is contained in language. For instance, Indigenous languages are important vessel containing and transmitting Indigenous knowledges. This is because Indigenous Knowledge is structured through language. This can be understood by examining some of the fundamental differences between English and Indigenous languages.  

Indigenous languages are polysynthetic. Polysynthetic Indigenous languages, by being comprised of longer more complex words with each word containing many morphemes, reflect the belief that all things are interconnected. Conversely, English is an isolating language. It has fewer morphemes per word and sentences are comprised of many separate words. In the English language you need to put together many separate words to convey an idea. In polysythetic languages, a single verb can contain as much information as one sentence in English. The word “n-gii-daa-mino-naawaakwe-wiisin” in Anishinaabemowin demonstrates this understanding. Anishinaabe community member and linguist Lindsay Morcom shared with QUILLS that in Anishinaabemowin:

niwiisin means “I eat”

ni-mino-wiisin means “I eat well” 

ni-mino-naawaakwe-wiisin means “I eat a good lunch” while 

n-gii-daa-mino-naawaakwe-wiisin means “I should have eaten a good lunch”  

This shows how root words are built upon to demonstrate more descriptive meaning. Indigenous languages are also verb-based, while English is noun-based. This means that Indigenous languages are intrinsically more descriptive, and the interconnectedness of all life is entrenched within the language(s). This understanding is outlined in a handout for teachers made available in Nature of Indigenous Language.pdf

  1. Root words that are important to Indigenous cultures also reveal what is valued by society. For instance, “Aki” in Anishinaabemowin means earth or land. Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper and plant expert Joe Pitawanakwat shared with QUILLS that the importance of the land to the Anishinaabe is revealed by the fact that aki is embedded in many other key terms such as:   
  • Akinamooshin- scientific inquiry   
  • Akiwesiihn- Old person   
  • Akinomaage- To teach   
  • Naa’akinagewin- Law  
  1. The manner in which pronouns are used in Indigenous language also reflect how things in the natural world are valued differently.  Many Indigenous languages do not contain pronouns to refer to elements in the natural world. In this manner, elements of the natural world are called by their name and not by pronouns such as “it” and “they”. This engenders a deeper, more intimate relationship with the natural world. 
  • Students can read the following article: Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction Let’s Start by Ditching “It”. Article by Robin Kimmerer found in Nature Needs a New Pronoun.pdf.
  • Students can practice writing a creative piece (poem, short story, paragraph, etc. where they use “ki” and “kin” in place of it). Students reflect on how this subtle shift of language impacts their relationship to the natural world. Ie: The manner in which pronouns are used in Indigenous language reflect how things in the natural world are valued differently. 

The translation of many words in Indigenous languages also reveals the significant role that land plays in many Indigenous cultures. For instance, Potawatomi scholar Robin Kimmerer in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, writes that the word for plants in many Indigenous languages translates to “those who take care of us”. Similarly, nibi which is the word for water translates into “the giver of Life”.

The significance of land is also revealed by the fact that the names for many important locations are derived from their geographical features. For instance:  

  • Toronto is derived from the Kanyen’ké:ha word Tkaronto which means “trees that reflect the water”.   
  • The Kanyen’ké:ha word for Kingston is Katarokwi which means “place of mud and sticks”.  
  • The word for Quebec in Anishinaabemowin is Kebek which means “where the river narrows”.  
  • Last, the word for Saskatoon in Cree is Misâskwatômina which means “fruit trees of many branches”

Students in pairs can look at Water Place Names.pdf and Indigenous Place Names.pdf to learn more about how Indigenous place name reflect the strong relationship Indigenous groups have to the land.

  • Teacher leads a discussion with students regarding how Indigenous languages are rapidly disappearing and how this connects to colonization and residential schools. Information included in Disappearance of Indigenous Languages.pdf.
  • Teachers choose a language from a list and research whether it has already disappeared, is projected to disappear, or is projected to survive. Extension activity made available as a handout in the Language Extension Activity.pdf.
  • Teachers check out resources on the Kingston Indigenous Language Nest: website and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na (TTO): website as to see examples of local language revitalization work.