Darian Agecoutay

Sharing Words of Wisdom: Darian Agecoutay Teaches Cree

“In Indigenous communities, if we don't have our language, it's like we don't have our spirit, because our language is connected to everything,” Darian Agecoutay explains, sharing how language is connected to culture, stories, insights, history, spirit and identity. He is from Cowessess First Nation and lives in Regina Saskatchewan. 

"In Indigenous communities, if we don't have our language, it's like we don't have our spirit, because our language is connected to everything"

When he first left his reserve to pursue a post secondary education he worked in convenience stores and other odd jobs before working with Indigenous Services Canada as a recruiter, encouraging Indigenous people to come work for the public service. Agecoutay was also tutoring in the Cree language and one day he was asked to step in for a professor at the First Nations University of Canada who was sick and needed someone to take over his class. At 19, he was teaching university even though he was still learning himself. 

He kept tutoring, translating and learning and he stepped away from working with the public service, focusing on language and storytelling work. Agecoutay graduated from post secondary just as a senior professor at First Nations University of Canada was returning and all the professors were moving up a rank, creating a vacancy at the bottom. Homesick, he was starting to head back to the reserve but he was asked to stay and teach as a sessional instructor, something he’s been doing for a couple years now. 

With the encouragement of mentors and senior university staff, he’s been able to work his way up from being a tutor even though Agecoutay doesn’t yet have a master’s degree. They could see his skill and work ethic shining through. He’s motivated by the desire to revitalize and support the retention of Indigenous languages. 

“When you step into a language, and especially when you start to understand it and learn it, if you haven't been living with it your whole life, there's a sort of worldview that comes into play where it's, that's kind of the motivation is that you want everybody to speak the language, you want to see a world where the language is being spoken on a regular basis, where the language is prioritized more than Western talk like English and French,” he reflects. 

Growing up on reserve, Agecoutay didn’t feel Cree because he didn’t know his language. “That's why when I started learning language, I really got more in tune with who I was as an indigenous person, getting more connected to culture, being more interested in learning about where I come from, and that's what motivated me,” he elaborates. Watching his students excel in language learning is motivates him, too. 

"Young kids, if they don't have their language, they might not know who they are, they might not be proud of who they are."

Not just a teacher, Agecoutay is a graduate student, too. At the University of Regina, he’s doing a Master's in Indigenous language education. He’s writing a thesis, creating a community guide to plan how to save the language and have it used more in his community as well as document his language efforts so far. As part of his classes, Agecoutay was able to attend a language camp. In his program, he’s learning about land based training, immersion programs, and language nests, finding out how they can be used as part of language revitalization. 

His undergraduate degree is a Bachelors of Arts in Cree language literacy, and while his other subjects his performance was average, the Cree classes didn’t feel like work. Cree wasn’t what he thought he would end up studying but it was what he was interested in. Agecoutay encourages students to keep an open mind and follow their interests in their studies even if it wasn’t what they planned for themselves. 

When asked for his advice for Indigenous students leaving their home communities, he says, “just take that step, and don't be scared to try different things.” Agecoutay wanted to leave the reserve to go work in the oil fields but his grandma suggested he try university and see if he liked it as a way to find stability. Something he warns against is all the temptations of the city, with the addictions and distractions and the culture shock that can come moving from an isolated community. 

Moving to the city made his struggles with alcohol worse but he was able to recover and take advantage of the benefits of the city from better employment, post secondary training, and strong support systems. As far as support systems go, Agecoutay suggests seeking out friendship centres, Indigenous student associations, academic advisors, student groups, family and friends. He sees support systems as key to getting comfortable living in the city. 

When it comes to inspiration, Agecoutay thinks of his language learning mentor who helped him get through his language blocks and encouraged him to start tutoring. Otherwise, he’s inspired by young people who are hungry for their language, culture and identity. He looks to ceremony and traditional dance for healing. “These are our mental health therapists, these are our mental health facilities, they can change people… that's why I always promote not only language but within that culture because culture is important as well. We cannot lose that,” he asserts. 

Darian Agecoutay teaches the Cree language knowing that without language in Indigenous communities, there’s an absence of spirit, because language is connected to everything. Given language is connected to culture, stories, insights, history, spirit and identity, he knows how transformative it can be. As a graduate student and a teacher, he’s learning and sharing as he goes and teaching the lessons as his wisdom grows.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    Saskatchewan
  • Date
    April 23, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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