The University of Guelph will be offering its first-ever Indigenous language course in the fall, an announcement that comes as Canada prepares to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day on Friday.

Students will learn the Ojibwa, or Anishinaabemowin, language which was chosen because of its connection to the Guelph area and Great Lakes region, vice president of academics Charlotte Yates said.

“As a leading Ontario university with a burgeoning focus on Indigenous learning, the time was right for the University of Guelph to begin offering Indigenous language instruction,” Yates added in a press release posted on Wednesday.

“We have a responsibility to collaborate with the Indigenous community in safeguarding and rejuvenating languages that are part of our national heritage and vitally important to Indigenous culture.”

The Ojibra was once widely spoken in North America but was among many Indigenous tongues that were suppressed in Canada beginning in the mid-1800s. However, national efforts are now underway to preserve the historic languages.

The university’s Ojibwa language course is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action found within its report, director of the School of Languages and Literatures Sandra Parmegiani said.

The report called for a revitalization and preservation of Indigenous language and culture — as well as for post-secondary institutions to create degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages, and the university says they are now starting to follow through.

“There is an ethical responsibility to do this,” Parmegiani added. It is not just having ethical motivations, however, as demand for instruction in Indigenous languages such as Ojibwa, Mohawk and Cree is growing as urban Aboriginals seek to stay connected.

“We anticipate a lot of people with Indigenous heritage will want to enrol, but people in the larger community who are outside of Indigenous heritage also appear very interested.”

Prof. Kim Anderson, an Indigenous scholar in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, said that “universities in Canada were built in Indigenous homelands, and there are original languages that belong to these lands.”

“I think it’s important for all Canadian universities, at a minimum, to invest in teaching the languages that belong to the territories they now occupy,” Anderson, who is Métis, continued.

“For Indigenous peoples, these are also the languages that were beaten out of our families, and relearning them is a critical part of healing, recovery and Indigenous futurities.”