FPCC is proud to share the creative ways communities and individuals are changing their projects during COVID-19. This series features stories about how creativity during this challenging time can lead to new and exciting work.
The Pacific Association of First Nations Women (PAFNW) is a Vancouver based organization that provides services and programs for Indigenous women. PAFNW facilitates Cree and Ojibway language classes that are open to all people of Cree or Ojibway descent. Before the impacts of COVID-19, the classes were held through in-person gatherings led by Elders and Language Champions who are fluent in their language.
We talked to Jessica Couzelis, PAFNW Language Coordinator, to learn more about how she and the language teachers handled the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings as they moved language classes online. Both classes were nearing the end of their series of lessons when they could no longer gather together. Jessica and her team worked quickly to come up with a plan and learn new tools to move the classes online.
Jessica admits that moving online was very difficult in the beginning. All of the course materials needed to be digitized so they could be shared. Some of the teachers did not have the equipment they needed, none of them had a lot of experience doing online courses and they all had to learn new skills together, but remotely. The first few sessions were a bit rocky but supported by their matriarch Diana Day, they never once thought of giving up.
“Putting the program on hold has never crossed my mind,” says Jessica. “The question was how do we keep going? Because not continuing wasn’t an option. We knew somehow we would get there.”
The results of their determination became evident when one online class grew from 15-25 participants to over 100. After a time, the numbers settled to over 30 per class and include many new learners. The classes are now accessible to Cree or Ojibway speakers wherever they live, not just in Vancouver. The impact is significant, providing a learning group and language connections for people who may not have been able to access the in-person classes or are living away from their home territory and other speakers.
Jessica is most proud of their ability to tackle technology and learn new tools. The knowledge that they can now successfully run their programs online has opened new possibilities for the future.
“We have now grown and evolved in ways that we wouldn’t have and now our reach is so much greater,” says Jessica “I don’t believe we would have done it without this push and in the long run we are going to be able to serve and support so many more people on their language learning journey with better tools to do it.”
The language team now has a deeper connection not only to each other, but also to the skills and talents they hold. Because the program changed, people stepped up in different roles and previously unknown gifts and skills emerged in the teaching team to build the new online format.
“Going forward, we are structuring the programs to cater to everyone’s different gifts and what they have to offer,” says Jessica. “Now we are envisioning the program in a different way that will highlight everyone’s different gifts because we have now established where our strengths are.”
The team misses the in-person connections and looks forward to once again gathering to share language knowledge. Until that time comes, they know that they have developed the skills and new resources to continue their language programs online, develop new online courses and offer Cree and Ojibway classes to more learners than ever.
For more information about PAFNW and their language program click here.
PAFNW is supported by these FPCC language programs: British Columbia Language Initiative, Indigenous Languages Grant and FirstVoices.
To view media coverage of PAFNW click here.
View our other COVID-19 stories here.
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