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Interview about Indigenous Languages with Hester Dillon, NoVo Foundation

By Shene Catholique-Valpy 

I had a moment to speak with Hester Dillon with NoVo Foundation during our Annual Meeting held in Yellowknife this past September. While sitting with her during our lunch break, we enjoyed a bowl of duck soup and fresh bannock in the cabin at BDene Adventures along the shores of the Great Slave Lake, Hester and I spoke about the importance of Indigenous languages within the North and the positive effects it has in communities and families. Hester expressed the desire to learn her own language as a Cherokee Indigenous woman and hopes to make it a priority in her everyday life.  


NoVo Foundation is currently funding 152 organizations throughout North America and beyond through the Indigenous Communities Initiative.


Of the Indigenous organizations that NoVo funds, nearly all work with Indigenous languages in some way through immersion schools, master/apprentice programs, and food system efforts through gathering, planting, growing, hunting and processing. Revitalizing culture and language have also helped communities encourage ending violence by using ceremony and returning to traditional values. 


As stated on their website, “[NoVo’s] aim is to support communities in healing from the devastation of the boarding school era and support instruction methods that are tailored to the educational and cultural needs of Indigenous students. Native education today is pursued in both traditional and assimilated forms. The spiritual and holistic nature of traditional Indigenous education and thought and practice permeates virtually all aspects of these educational practices. We will focus on schools that are engaging Native communities in relevant curriculum, and on cultural and language practices that serve students from early learning to adulthood, promoting Native identity, health and lifelong learning.”


“Our Northern area work has been limited so far to two re-granting efforts.  We have supported the Arctic Indigenous Fund,” Hester said. In 2018/2019 the Arctic Indigenous Fund focused their funding strategy on supporting Indigenous language organizations across the Arctic. “NoVo’s Indigenous Communities made a grant to support the re-granting and program/administrative support of the Fund, as well as Tides Canada’s work in the North through re-granting and program/administrative costs.” Tides Canada Foundation also has support for Indigenous languages as a key priority area in the North.


Hester explains, “Our focus is to really help communities create speakers and one way we support this is through many types of programs that are designed to help communities learn the language to help pass on this knowledge. We really want to support people living in the language. On the efforts of revitalizing language, the communities decide on whichever way is best to revitalize.

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