Marianne Ignace, a faculty member in the Departments of Linguistics and First Nations Studies, was awarded one of five Social Science and Humanities Research Council Impact awards on Dec. 4, 2019 in Ottawa. The award celebrates the best ideas and research about people, thoughts and behaviour.

Partnerships to help save Indigenous languages lauded with humanities research award

October 09, 2019

A Simon Fraser University professor’s decades-long journey to document and preserve British Columbia Indigenous languages and create the partnerships and tools to keep those languages alive is being honoured by Canada’s social sciences research community.

Marianne Ignace, a faculty member in SFU’s Departments of Linguistics and First Nations Studies, has won one of five Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Impact Awards, which celebrate the best ideas and research about people, thought, behaviour and culture.

“We find ourselves at an important juncture, as Indigenous languages around the world are at risk of extinction, but the work we have been able to carry out in the past six years through our partnership grant gives us hope for the future of our languages,” says Ignace, who is leading a $2.5-million partnership that brings together 22 Indigenous partner organizations (representing 12 Indigenous languages) from B.C., Yukon and Alaska.

“Working alongside Indigenous communities and creating partnerships grounded in mutual respect is critical to help stem that language loss and to help us train young speakers who will pass language along to their children. Since we launched this SSHRC Partnership Program in 2013, our more than 20 Indigenous community partners in B.C., Yukon and Alaska have carried out vitally important work, adding to the documentation of our languages, supporting adult learners, and developing digital media to archive and learn them. ”

The Partnership Award, which Ignace received during a Dec. 4, 2019 ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, recognizes her intellectual leadership and community co-operation, and the impact she has made beyond the social sciences research community.   

From left, the 2019 SSHRC Impact Award winners: Jake Pyne, Will Kymlicka, Marianne Ignace, Leah F. Vosko, Robert Jan van Pelt.

Funded by the SSHRC, the First Nations Languages in the Twenty-first Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward project—which Ignace has led since 2013—has documented languages with Indigenous elders, developed digital storage and retrieval systems and created language learning apps and learning opportunities for new speakers.

“Over the past three decades, Marianne Ignace has championed a collaborative approach to research with Indigenous communities,” says Joy Johnson, SFU’s vice-president, research and international.

“Her work respects the wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous elders and has wide and lasting impact in our society. Her research is critical to help stem the loss of Indigenous languages in B.C. Congratulations to professor Ignace on this well-deserved recognition.”

Ignace, along with her husband Chief Ronald Ignace, co-founded SFU’s Kamloops program in 1988. The program, which offered SFU certificate and degree programs, evolved into SFU's First Nations Languages Program. Marianne Ignace is the program's director and helps develop Indigenous language and proficiency courses.

Marianne and Ronald Ignace won the 2018 Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize for their book Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws and in May, the pair was recognized with a Governor General’s Award for Innovation.

Marianne Ignace, second from left, celebrates the award with her husband Chief Ronald Ignace, second from right during an event in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2019.