Dr. Marianne Ignace named into the Royal Society of Canada

Revitalization of Indigenous languages is a main focus of Dr. Ignace’s work

Image Courtesy of Simon Fraser University via SFU News

By Karissa Ketter, News Writer

SFU professor Dr. Marianne Ignace was named a fellow in the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), a national academy that promotes research in arts, humanities, and sciences. Dr. Ignace is a leading scholar in Indigenous studies and linguistics in BC, working to revitalize and preserve Indigenous languages. 

In 2017, she and her husband, Chief Dr. Ronald Ignace, co-authored the book Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws. In an interview with The Peak, she explained the book discusses the Secwépemc people’s “10,000 year existence on the land and expresses Secwépemc Indigenous laws through stories.” She noted that they’re currently working to create “a follow up of a collection of stories [that they] have reclaimed into [their] language.”

Dr. Ignace also received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, to collaborate with over 20 Indigenous organizations that encompass various languages in BC, Southeast Alaska, and the Yukon. Ignace’s aim is to conduct “language documentation projects,” amongst other research projects, where she strives to produce “new learners of Indigenous languages.”

For the last three years, Dr. Ignace has worked in the Secwépemc Nation with a group of adults learning their language. She said she aims “to raise a new generation of adults into the language.” When asked about the effects of her work, Dr. Ignace noted that she’s “seen some really good progress” in students’ language fluency. Dr. Ignace said that with hard work, she feels it’s possible to “turn the decline of languages around.” 

In addition to Dr. Ignace’s area of study, her work is connected to the “[field] of Indigenous ethnoecology and ethnobiology.” Part of her research centres around how Indigenous communities “[interact] with plants and animals on the land” in connection with their language.

Her research in ethnoecology and it’s relationship with language traces back to the 1980s when Dr. Ignace recorded the Secwépemc and Haida elders’ stories and narratives. These records were the foundation for her and Chief Dr. Ronald Ignace’s book. 

Dr. Ignace stated that the way in which Indigenous communities “express [their] thoughts about the world, about the environment, about social relations, [and about] the land” share a relationship. “The languages and the cultures are inseparably connected, deep down [ . . . ] that’s kind of why language revitalization is so important, to not lose that thread to ancestors, to the land, to the wisdom.”