Natalie Langan

Sharing Saulteaux: Natalie Langan’s Language Lives On with Love

“I wasn't given my language just for it to disappear,” declares Natalie Langan, a Saulteaux language teacher. She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan but was raised in Fishing Lake First Nation. She is a member of Cote First Nation and was the youngest of thirteen grandkids raised traditionally by her paternal grandmother.  A fluent Saulteaux speaker, her grandmother didn’t speak, write or read English, choosing instead to pass down her language to all the children she raised.

“I was very fortunate to be taught my traditions and my language and to know where I am from, where my roots are from,” she reflects. Her grandmother was a homemaker who lived off the land and she passed on that way of life to her grandchildren. Langan spoke English with her siblings but speaking Saulteaux with her grandmother built her fluency quickly. When she was 23, her grandmother passed away and in her grief, she describes her language as having gone to sleep.   

The loss of the family’s matriarch was crushing, as she was not just grandmother but also teacher. While she could have spoken her language with her relatives, losing her grandmother caused her to shut down. “I felt like I didn't have access to it anymore,” Langan remembers. “My language just kind of sat in the back of my mind, in the back of my heart, in the back of my identity for a really long time. It was something that was sleeping. It's been a process to wake up my language, to wake up my identity, and to move on to where I am now. It's been an extraordinary journey, for sure,” she continues. 

A few years ago, Langan was approached by a professor from First Nations University of Canada about a project that required a Saulteaux language speaker. Initially reluctant, she agreed with the encouragement of her husband. She decided she wanted to record her language and to help others learn. Determined not to let the professor or herself down, she found and maintained the motivation to continue speaking her language. “People are learning from me, but what they don't know is that they are actually helping me in such an immense way. It's something that is reciprocal,” she beams.

Now teaching beginner Saulteaux online over zoom, learners reach out to her with the stories of why they want to learn the language. Even a 78 year old 60s scoop survivor wanted to learn so she could teach her own family and help them connect with their identity. Many learners have similar stories of bridging disconnection from language and culture later in life through language classes. 

“If you start learning your language, if you start understanding it or accepting it, that is going to give you your direct ties to your ancestors. This is what they spoke, this is what they lived. It gives us a connection to them. Nobody else can give that connection except through language,” she shares. 

Her advice for Indigenous students leaving their communities for education is based on her own challenges after moving to the city from the reserve. At a certain point her mom wanted her to come live with her and she went from her traditional home living off the land to a whole new reality. She had to grow up very quickly. Langan struggled with homesickness, fear and intimidation in her new surroundings. At the same time, she had more access to resources and new support systems. 

“It was probably the bravest thing that I've done. It was something that helped me to grow up, it helped me to learn, it helped me to be independent. I saw things a lot differently, through a more mature lens, where I had to be responsible for my studies, I had to be responsible for the choices that I made, and the type of people that I surrounded myself with,” Langan recalls. 

All of those resources helped her through high school, university and becoming a young mother. “If anybody does want to make that choice to leave home, leave their comfort zone, you can absolutely do it. There will be challenges along the way. You'll be lonely, there'll be all of those things, but you work through those things every day and it really is beneficial,” Langan urges. 

“Your determination, your motivation, how you see things is really what is going to help you in the long run.” 

To balance her mental health and wellbeing, Langan has learned to turn to her cultural traditions like prayer and the teachings of her elders. She also listens to her body and trusts its wisdom about what she needs, whether that’s rest, sleep, or the emotional release of crying. She’s learned to pace herself, to practice gratitude, to spread kindness and positivity and to accept blessings.  Keeping her mental health in check is something she’s learning to do as she goes and part of that process involves reaching out for help when she needs it and asking for support from others. 

When it comes to inspiration, Langan thinks of her identity. She says, “I am a Saulteaux woman. I know that I am strong. I know that I am resilient. I know that I am a survivor. If I can make it through all of those things that I have gotten through throughout my life, then I know that there's a good chance that I can make it through the next challenge, make it through the next obstacle. I'm not afraid anymore. I'm not intimidated anymore to take on new things. It's a part of my growth.”

"I am a Saulteaux woman. I know that I am strong. I know that I am resilient. I know that I am a survivor."

Even through failure, Langan knows that she can find courage and opportunities to improve. While sometimes she is overwhelmed with self-doubt, she believes she is only given what the Creator believes she can handle. She sees things as either lessons or blessings and finds inspiration in her daily life. 

She wasn't given her language just for it to disappear and that’s why Natalie Langan is sharing the Saulteaux language with students virtually over zoom. Connecting people with their culture and their ancestors through language instruction, she’s paying forward the precious gift she was given by her grandmother. While grief put her language to sleep for a while, she’s woken up to the opportunity to practice what she’s been taught every day. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    June 6, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
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