Preserving indigenous languages one app at a time

Ogoki Learning Inc. is the world leader when it comes to language apps

Canada’s Aboriginal languages are many and diverse, and their importance to indigenous people immense. During the past 100 years or more, nearly ten, once flourishing languages have become extinct; at least a dozen more are on the brink of extinction. When these languages vanish, they take with them unique ways of looking at the world.

Ogoki Learning Inc. is trying to preserve indigenous languages one app at a time.

It all started when Darrick Baxter, President of Ogoki Learning, created an Ojibwe language app for smartphones and tablets. Soon after the release, he noticed the app was doing what he hoped it would, teaching kids the Ojibwe language while keeping them engaged through mobile devices.

From that moment Baxter, who grew up in Winnipeg’s North End, knew he had to share the app with everyone, so he released the app for free.

“I can tell you I received a lot of criticism right after I released the app, with people telling me I should be selling the app for .99 cents, and not release it for free,” says Baxter. “They didn’t realize the magnitude of language extinction, and to me it was really important for the app to be available to everyone.” The Ojibwe language app has been downloaded almost 250,000 times.

It is estimated that if nothing is done, nearly 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of the century. For decades, inside Canada’s residential schools, teachers tried to eliminate the aboriginal identity and culture. They started with language.

“I’ll never forget when one elder told me about his experience,” recalls Baxter. “We’re going to kill your language.” Those words have never left Baxter’s mind.

In Manitoba, there are seven indigenous languages. Cree, Dene, Michif, Ojibwe, Inuktitut, Dakota     and Ojibwe-Cree.   In different communities throughout the province, whether they are within close proximity of each other or not, can have very different language. Canada has over 500 different tribes while the United States are close to 800, all with unique languages, and many have been contacting Baxter for help.

“I had a crazy idea when I started out, and that was to release the app source code for free and allow every single tribe to download and use it and distribute it,” adds Baxter. “The same critics who were giving me advice before were now thinking I was out of my mind, but I went and distributed it.”

After the release Baxter noticed that a lot of the tribes had begun to use the source code. Then his phone started ringing off the hook.

“I started talking to the Sami tribe, the tribal government of Norway, giving them advice on how to create a language app,” Baxter recalls. “Then tribes in New Zealand, Australia, and North America were contacting me.”

Baxter trained some of these tribes to create their own language app and help empower the tribes. With some tribes having only two or three living speakers left, their languages could be gone tomorrow. With that, thousands of words, phrases, and hundreds of years of oral history would be gone with it.

If you build it, they will come

Ogoki is continuing to lead the way when it comes to language apps, and their newest app, which was just released, is going to be a game-changer when it comes to language apps.

“Our newest app is the Wasagamack keyboard app in which we’ve incorporated syllabics where you can type in the syllabics, and in turn it’ll tell you the word,” Baxter says. “

Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics is the collective name for the syllabic writing systems developed from James Evans’ Ojibwe syllabary, which he invented in 1840. They are used to write a number of the indigenous languages of Canada.

The American tribes have embraced the technology, accounting for close to 80% of Ogoki’s clients. Baxter would like to see it become more embraced in Canada, and more specifically Manitoba.

“I think part of the reason is we don’t rely on delivering education through mobile devices, and we don’t rely as heavy on teaching the languages as we should,” Baxter adds. “The Wasagaming app we just developed is just our second or third client in Manitoba,

Ogoki’s primary product may be language apps, but they can produce apps for any business. Baxter will even come out and train staff on how to use the app, so they can continue to update and make the app their own.

“We’ve released the most apps out of any language app development companies in the world,” says Baxter, who was invited to Apple Headquarters to discuss how the education systems have been using the apps and how they can help.

“We’ve released over 120 apps and have been featured on the Apple ITunes homepage nine times.”

“No other app company from Manitoba can say that.”

Ogoki Learning Inc. is having an open house June 20th between 12-4pm at their office located at 5-1700 Ness Avenue.

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