It’s a big responsibility for him and the four others gathered in one of several booths in a back room at the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino west of Calgary.

The rapid word collection event, a partnership between the nation and the U.S.-based Language Conservancy, ran for 10 days, collecting over 10,000 words from elders across all three Stoney bands.

“The main focus is to collect enough words to produce resources for our students, especially at the Grade 1 level,” said Bill Shade, superintendent of the Stoney Education Authority.

“It’s very difficult to find resources that are in Stoney Nakoda for this region, and we’ll now own the property rights for these resources for our schools,” said Shade.

Shade says that while most knowledge tends to be passed on verbally in First Nations culture, it’s important to have languages written down.

He says knowledge and use of the Stoney language varies from family to family across the Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley bands.

The resources and learning materials the collection event builds will be vital for the language’s future health.

As well as benefiting students, the project has also given the community a huge sense of pride in securing their language for future generations, he says.

“They are very excited. They’re also very worried about quality, they are very meticulous about spellings, pronunciations and meanings. They want it done right,” said Shade.

“We have eight or nine groups coming every day for 10 days, and we have scribes in each group working with fluent speakers using an automated online collection tool. So they’re all going into a database,” said Katie Norman with the Language Conservancy, which works with communities across North America and one tribe in Australia.