Grocery shopping in South Slavey

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Pam Balsillie, an employee of Super A grocery store, displays a tag containing the South Slavey word for green onions. There are about 40 such tags in the store identifying items in the aboriginal language.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Pam Balsillie, an employee of Super A grocery store, displays a tag containing the South Slavey word for green onions. There are about 40 such tags in the store identifying items in the aboriginal language.

Some grocery stores in the South Slave have joined an effort to promote aboriginal languages.

Shopping in Two Worlds is an initiative of the South Slave Divisional Education Council to put aboriginal languages on tags identifying items in the grocery stores.

The tags, which include the aboriginal word for the food, an accompanying image and a scannable quick response (QR) code, slide in next to the pricing labels currently in grocery stores. Customers can download a free QR scanner on their smartphones to scan the new tags and hear the product name spoken aloud in Cree, Slavey or Chipewyan, depending on the language or languages spoken in their community.

“If we want the traditional aboriginal languages of our communities once again spoken proudly and fluently, we need to turn common everyday experiences like shopping for groceries into language learning opportunities,” stated Brent Kaulback, the retired assistant superintendent with the education council, in a news release. “By helping our stores become living dictionaries, we are taking another step towards language revitalization.”

The idea first began at the Ehdah Cho Store on the Hay River Reserve about a year ago.

It has now been expanded to Super A Foods in Hay River, Kaeser’s Store in Fort Smith and the Lutsel K’e Co-op in Lutsel K’e.

While the initiative has been launched as part of Aboriginal Languages Month in March, stores may keep the signage on display all year long.

Steve Anderson, a manager at Super A Foods, said the store was approached by the education council about Shopping in Two Worlds and agreed to become involved in what he described as a “fantastic” idea.

“It’s been in the Ehdah Cho Store for a little while and we thought it would be nice to offer it and show the program to the community of Hay River,” he said, explaining it would show respect to the different languages in the Northwest Territories.

About 40 tags in the South Slavey language were installed at Super A in late February.

Anderson noted he saw one customer scan the QR codes with her smartphone and listen to the aboriginal words with her young son.

“They got a little bit of fun out of it and they found it quite interesting,” he said.

Pam Balsillie, an employee of Super A, noted an elder who was shopping at the store noticed the language tags and started pronouncing the words.

“She was really pleased that she was seeing actual Slavey,” said Balsillie, who is from Fort Resolution and can speak some Chipewyan.

She said she likes the tags in the aboriginal language, noting it reflects the culture and the languages of the NWT.

Anderson said it is possible the aboriginal language tags will remain at Super A beyond Aboriginal Languages Month.

“I think it would be nice to actually have on a continuous basis because they don’t really get in the way and it respects other languages, and I think that’s important,” he said.

Kaulback said, when the education council began the initiative in the Ehdah Cho Store, it wanted to see if the product codes would be scanned and if people would be actually using them as a way to support and use their language.

“What we found in some of the data that we can sort of pull from those is we’ve had up to 300 scans on some of those words over the course of the year,” he said. “So it excites us the fact that people even during the year are still using it at that one small store. So what we thought is we would expand this into some of the other stores in the South Slave.”

In Hay River and on the Hay River Reserve, the tags are in Slavey.

In Fort Resolution and Lutsel K’e, the tags are in Chipewyan, and in Fort Smith they are in Chipewyan and Cree.

Kaulback said whether the language tags will be permanent depends on the stores.

“The store on the reserve has kept it up all year long,” he said, “So hopefully these other stores would as well.”

Although he is retired from the education council, Kaulback is still consulting with the school board about language programming.

–Paul Bickford