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UNB Saint John celebrates linguistic diversity with inaugural Language Tree ceremony

Author: Todd Ross

Posted on Dec 20, 2023

Category: UNB Saint John

Photo: left to right: Kim Wilbur, lecturer, department of nursing and health Sciences; Leigha Thurber, SRC Indigenous student rep; Todd Ross, Indigenous advisor from the University of New Brunswick Saint John campus; Jana Nicol, ASD-S First Nations Education Coach; Opolahsomuwehs (Elder Imelda Perley); Laura Taylor, ASD-S Subject Coordinator First Nation Education; Ande Mosher, SRC mature student Rep.

Todd Ross is the Indigenous advisor from the University of New Brunswick's (UNB) Saint John campus. In the following article, he shares his musings from UNB's inaugural Language Tree ceremony.

On Dec. 5, Elder Opolahsomuwehs, Imelda Perley, led an inspiring event at the University of New Brunswick's (UNB) Saint John campus. In recognition of cultural heritage and language revival, she led the creation of the campus' inaugural Language Tree.

Students, faculty and staff participated in the event by adorning the tree with languages including Wolastoqey, Mi'kmaq, Peskotomuhkati, Cree, Michif, Maori, Arabic, Danish, French, German, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish and Urdu.

Nestled within the Klohn Commons, the Language Tree, a traditional Christmas tree adorned with ribbons and ornaments, carries messages of hope, sharing and the festive spirit. These messages are inscribed in languages representing the UNB Saint John community's tapestry of cultures.

The Language Tree symbolizes the revival of Indigenous languages across Turtle Island, standing as a testament to their resilience amidst historical challenges. It serves as a tribute to our heritage, shares the stories and teachings that are embedded in Wabanaki languages, and is an invitation to celebrate linguistic diversity.

This initiative invites communities to revive and cherish their traditional languages while fostering unity through diversity, emphasizing the importance of language as a cultural cornerstone.

Elder Opolahsomuwehs reminisced about her collaboration with the Lieutenant Governor to establish a similar Language Tree at the Government House in Fredericton. As a symbol of unity and bridges across cultures, she explained that these trees symbolize unity.

As the Language Tree stands tall, it calls upon the UNB Saint John community and beyond to appreciate the role of language in shaping identities, fostering connections and honouring diverse cultures. This inaugural initiative underscores the university's dedication to inclusivity, cultural celebration and linguistic diversity.

The Language Tree reminds us that languages are not just words but representations of our societies. It weaves together stories, traditions and a shared humanity.

On Dec. 15 Ross spoke with CBC’s Julia Wright about the Language Tree. He also discussed the National Healing Forests Initiative on UNB’s Saint John campus.