The Niichii Project: Revitalizing Indigenous Language in Northern Canada


  • Shelley Stagg Peterson University of Toronto, Canada
  • Yvette Manitowabi Wikwemikong Board of Education, Wikwemikong First Nation, Canada
  • Jacinta Manitowabi Wikwemikong Board of Education, Wikwemikong First Nation, Canada



Indigenous pedagogies, Indigenous language revitalization, children’s Indigenous identities, intergenerational learning, experiential learning, oral tradition, land-based pedagogies, spirituality in learning, relational pedagogical processes


Two Anishnabek kindergarten teachers discuss four principles of Indigenous pedagogies in a project with a university researcher that created a context for children to engage in activities to learn their Anishnabek language and culture, and create positive identities. The university researcher sent a rabbit puppet named Niichii (Friend), who was assigned the role of an Anishnaabek child whose family was from their Indigenous community but had moved away. Taking the role of Niichii’s Kokum (Grandmother), the university researcher asked the child to teach Niichii the community’s language and traditional ways. The teachers describe and interpret the learning activities of the Niichii project in terms of four elements of Indigenous pedagogies: intergenerational learning; experiential learning; spiritual learning involving interconnections with the land; and learning about relationality. Implications for other bilingual and multilingual contexts include creating role play contexts where children are positioned as teachers and helpers to support an imaginary character’s language and cultural learning, building on children’s funds of knowledge and highlighting cultural connections to the local community.


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Author Biographies

  • Shelley Stagg Peterson, University of Toronto, Canada

    Shelley Stagg Peterson, a former elementary teacher in rural Canadian schools, is a Professor at the University of Toronto who conducts research on young children’s language and literacy learning in play/experiential contexts. She is the project director of the Northern Oral language and Writing through Play (NOW Play) partnership project, which involves collaborative action research with teachers, early childhood educators and Indigenous community members in remote northern Canadian communities to support Indigenous children’s Indigenous language and cultural learning, and their writing.

  • Yvette Manitowabi, Wikwemikong Board of Education, Wikwemikong First Nation, Canada

    Yvette Manitowabi is from the Three Fire Confederacy, Odawa, Ojibway, Potawatomi Nation, of Wikwemikong ON. Canada, land of the Robinson Huron Treaty Territory. She is a Anishinaabe Kew, Nokomis (Grandmother) and Teacher who is approaching her next stage of life as Elder, Knowledge Keeper, giving back to her community. She was instrumental in bringing Local Developed courses to their High School. She has taught in a Section 19 classroom, Primary, Jr Level and currently teachers Play Base Kindergarten class. Her journey continues with her focus on giving students a strong sense of identity, revitalize their ancestral language and connection to Creator.

  • Jacinta Manitowabi, Wikwemikong Board of Education, Wikwemikong First Nation, Canada

    Jacinta Manitowabi born and raised on Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, was fully immersed in her Anishinaabemowin language and culture as a child. She left her community to gain Early Childhood Educator qualifications and worked in a variety of capacities, including Student Liaison at Cambrian College’s Binoojiiyag Kinoomaadwin Early Childhood Program and Supervisor in a Daycare in Constance Lake First Nation, where she was asked by the Education Director to teach Kindergarten. Shen then became a qualified teacher. She decided to give back to her community and moved home to work as a resource teacher in the community daycare. Currently, she is an Anishinaabemowin Immersion Kindergarten Teacher. She has been given the gift of Anishinnabe language and feels it is her duty to pass it along to children within her community.


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How to Cite

The Niichii Project: Revitalizing Indigenous Language in Northern Canada. (2021). TESOL in Context, 30(1), 85-104.
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