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Video: Web series showcases filmmaker learning Nakota in 10 days

Wahbi Zarry decided to start producing a documentary web series after discovering many Indigenous languages around the world are in danger of disappearing completely
Wahbi Zarry behind the camera (photo credit-Tony Quiñones)
Wahbi Zarry behind the camera.

REGINA — “10 Days of Nakota” is a documentary short available on YouTube from director and producer Wahbi Zarry. Zarry speaks three languages fluently and became interested in Indigenous languages after moving to Saskatchewan to become a French teacher.

Wahbi Zarry was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and grew up in France. He later moved to Montreal, then to Regina, where he studied to be a French teacher. He speaks English, French, and Arabic.

Zarry works with cinematographer and editor Tony Quiñones.

He decided to start producing his documentary web series Canadian Languages after discovering that many Indigenous languages around the world are in danger of disappearing completely.

“For almost 100 years, people (weren’t allowed) to speak their language here in Canada,” Zarry explained. “I believe that learning Indigenous languages is a wonderful act of reconciliation.”

Zarry has previously produced a short film called “10 Days of Cree: An Investigative Report” in which he spent 10 days learning Cree. He said that the people he learned from were very helpful and happy to share.

“In Canada, the whole population agrees on the revitalization of these languages,” Zarry said. “All the political parties agree – there is no entity here against that.”

He said that when he encourages viewers to learn an Indigenous language, he isn’t talking about becoming perfectly fluent. Just a few words could be enough, he said, just putting in some effort could be a personal act of reconciliation.

For this movie, Zarry’s teacher was a 10-year-old girl named Crocus Bigeagle, from Ocean Man First Nation. She has a keen and passionate interest in the Nakota language, paying close attention to every detail. Her Nakota name means “Smiling Flower Girl”.

Another teacher was Peter Bigstone, an Assiniboine from Ocean Man whom Zarry said is a historical figure when it comes to the Nakota language. Zarry believes that Bigstone knows more Nakota than anyone else in the world.

Zarry’s adventure took him across Saskatchewan, visiting First Nations communities not only to learn the Nakota language but the culture also.

He thinks of Indigenous languages as “pure Canadian languages.” In contrast to English, French, German, and other European languages, languages like Nakota have had almost no outside influences. English contains words from dozens of languages that have been incorporated over hundreds of years, resulting in sometimes dramatic changes in sound and pronunciation depending on the root of a certain word.

Efforts to suppress and prohibit Indigenous languages have had another effect: they are missing newer terms, mostly related to technology. Words like internet, cellphone, and e-mail have been added to English when existing words weren’t enough.

Modern efforts to revitalize and preserve Indigenous languages must also tackle how such words will be added. French, for example, is notable for having formal councils that work to make sure new words still sound French and flow well with existing grammar.

Another thing that surprised Zarry was the combination of Indigenous culture with Indigenous languages. As an illustration, connection to nature is part of the vocabulary, expressions, and grammar in Nakota in a way that English speakers might not understand.

Zarry was warmly welcomed by the Nakota community and hopes he can inspire as many people as possible to take an interest in the original Canadian languages.

“It was a wonderful experience,” he said.

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