If you only speak one language, you might not fully appreciate the complexity of the words you speak. The word alone is meaningless, of course: “apple” only refers to an apple because that’s the arbitrary decision that was made centuries ago. How these words came to mean what they do is a rich cultural tapestry; those who know how to read that tapestry can uncover the deepest secrets of a culture’s history and heritage. What you say really is what you are, in more profound ways than many people realize or could possibly imagine.
Because language has such a unique and pivotal tie to one’s cultural history, it is deeply distressing to learn that according to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), over 2,000 languages spoken by indigenous peoples both in Canada and the wider world are in danger of disappearing. To lose even one of these languages would be a cultural tragedy. UNESCO is taking serious steps to make sure this doesn’t happen: they have dubbed 2019 the “International Year of Indigenous Languages” and the organization will be working closely with Indigenous peoples across the world to not only preserve their heritage but protect their human rights on an international level.
Liette Vasseur, Brock’s UNESCO Chair, is hoping to assist with that goal in the Brock community. This year’s iteration of the Annual Sustainability Poetry Contest, run by the Chair, will be tied to the theme of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Since its inception the contest has helped to engage the Niagara Region’s artistic community with pressing social issues, giving them an opportunity to raise their unique voice and celebrate the diversity of the region. This year, particular focus will be placed on celebrating the voices of vulnerable indigenous cultures. The contest is open to all inhabitants of the Niagara Region, though UNESCO will be working with Indigenous groups to ensure that members of First Nations, Metis, Inuit and Six Nations groups are accommodated for.
For those wishing to participate, entries are open from January 22 until February 15 and submissions can be made through Brock’s UNESCO Chair website. Winners will be announced at a special celebration at Mahtay Cafe on March 21, International Poetry Day. This event is free to attend but, as space is limited, registration will be required. There are categories for elementary school students, high school students, college or university students and a final category for the general public. Prizes such as books or gift cards will be awarded in each category.
To find out more about the competition, or general information about the work UNESCO does promoting the sustainability of rural communities and empowerment of women, visit www.brocku.ca/unesco-chair.