Indigenous Studies instructor spreads hope for endangered languages

Colleen Charles belongs to the North American indigenous people of Woodland Cree. She recently met with South Saami students at Nord University. "Yes, it is possible to restore the language", she says.

Klikk her for å endre bildet
Guest lecture about colonialism. "It's very interesting to meet Saami students, and I would like to learn more about their culture. ​As an Indigenous Studies lecturer in Canada, the goal is for my students to get to know more about who they are and where they come from", says Colleen Charles. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes.
​​Colleen Charles grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is a proud representative of the ​North-American Woodland Cree people, and works as an Indigenous Studies instructor at Northlands College in Saskatchewan. ​She recently visited Nord University in Levanger, where she met with Saami students to lecture about colonialism.

According to Charles, the two peoples have a lot in common. Both languages and cultures are severely endagered. But there is still cause for optimism. 

"Yes, there is hope. ​The Woodland Cree people has experienced that their language was severely endangered and nearly disappeared as a result of the residential schools. My mother didn't want us to learn cree, because she wanted to protect us from the physical and psychological ​punishment that she experienced as a child. Still some people managed to learn the language, and now we experience that it is possible to restore both our language and other old traditions in our culture", she says.

A network of universities in the Arctic

Klikk her for å endre bildet
Productive collaboration: Asbjørn Kolberg and Helen Blind Brandsfjell at Nord University highly appreciated the visit from guest lecturer Colleen Charles. They hop​e for more exchange of students and staff in the future through the​​ UARCTIC network. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes.
She speaks in a low voice, but there is a stoic calmness and safety about her when she speaks with the students. She uses a special method in her teaching, called «Artwork».

"The students paint during the lecture, using both symbols and ​strong colours. In my experience, this enhances their ability of critical thinking, because the method is interactive and more «hands on», she says.

Nord University and Northlands College are among the active partners in the University of the Arctic (Uarctic) network, a collaboration that includes almost all universities situated above the Arctic Circle. The collaboration includes more than 200 institutions, and the guest lecture with Colleen Charles was made possible through the north2north​ programme.

"This is an important collaboration for us. Many of our students and staff have benefited from this programme, and Colleen has worked hard to be able to come to our university to contribute with her knowledge to our students", Rector Hanne Solheim Hansen says.​

Nord University has a national responsibility for research and education in South and Lule Saami languages and culture. Both languages are on UNESCOs of severely endangered languages. 

"The indigenous perspective is a part of the university's social mission", says Professor Emeritus and former responsible of the South Saami studies at Nord University, Asbjørn Kolberg.

New study programmes and strenghtening of the academic environment

Klikk her for å endre bildet
National responsibility: "I am happy that work is now being done to develop new study programmes in Lule and South Saami at Nord University", says Professor Emeritus Asbjørn Kolberg. Photo: Tor Dybdal-Holthe.
"Our goal is to educate enough South and Lule Saami teachers and Kindergarten teachers​. It is essential that Saami children meet adults early in life who speak their own language for the languages to be able to survive. Unfortunately, this is far from today's reality. Therefore, I am happy that work is now being done to establish new Lule and South Saami ​study programmes at bachelor and master level here at Nord University. In 2022 we were able to strengthen our academic environment by establishing new academic positions to be able to develop the study programmes in both languages, Kolberg says.

Helen Blind Brandsfjell is a coordinator for the "South Saami 3" course at Nord University. She hopes that the university will be able to offer more guest lectures for the students in the future.

"The indigenous communities are extremely important. It's much more powerful to hear the ​​stories from someone who knows them ​​since childhood ​​than reading about it in a book. Here, the students have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss, she says.

Inspired by the aesthetic method

Klikk her for å endre bildet
Artwork as a pedagogical method: For a long time, student Sophie Lutz has requested guest lectures such as the one by Colleen Charles​. Lutz benefited greatly from the meeting with the Canadian. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes
One of the students that benefited from the guest lecture is Sophie Lutz from Levanger. The 27-year-old is a fourth year South Saami teacher education student, and has also completed education in Arts. 

"​To tell a story through an aesthetic process like this is something I would like to try out with my pupils at school as well. Although colonialism is a sad subject, I have gained a lot from this", she says and shows her colourful painting.

Saami teacher education

Nord University offers South and Lule Saami teacher education in Levanger and Bodø.

South Saami teacher education, master 1-7th grade (Levanger)

Lule Saami teacher education, master 1-7th grade (Bodø)

 Contact person