About Marie-Odile Junker

Carleton Linguistics Prof. Marie-Odile Junker loves helping to preserve Indigenous languages and the incredible stories they have to tell about Canada’s past.

For the last two decades, she has worked tirelessly to document and maintain Indigenous languages, including some with written material dating back centuries, and others with little or no historical grammar standardization.

“These languages are part of our heritage,” says Junker, who received a Governor General’s Innovation Award last May for her work. “They embody a very special way of looking at the world and humanity in general.”

A linguist with a background in computer science, Junker has built resources to preserve languages in the Algonquian family (Cree, Innu and Atikamekw) and help their speakers keep them alive. Exploring how information and communication technologies can help Indigenous languages, she has developed several websites in partnership with Indigenous organizations. She co-created the East Cree website, a resource for documenting and preserving the East Cree language, as well as online dictionaries for Cree and Innu.

Junker also created the Algonquian Linguistic Atlas, www.atlas-ling.ca, which is evolving into a large collaborative project to build a digital infrastructure for Algonquian dictionaries and other resources. She regularly facilitates language-documentation workshops in communities and at Carleton. As a supporter of linguistic diversity, Junker uses a participatory-action research framework to work with communities and individuals interested in saving their languages and seeing them thrive in the 21st century.

Despite the number of Indigenous languages that once flourished, they are being lost in great numbers due to governmental and public complacency, says Junker, who sees this issue as an “invisible, unheard” crisis about which Canadians are typically either unconcerned or unaware.

“We’re doing this work with very few resources, especially when you consider the resources for our official languages and other more common ones,” she says. “We use cheap servers, open-source applications and short-term sparse funding. We’re limited in what we can do.”

Junker hopes that her Governor General’s award will help shine a light on the problem and attract more support for the work that she and others are doing. “I hope this award is a sign that the federal government intends to support this kind of research and service long term,” she says. “I hope now I can take this outside university circles. If there’s a consensus from the general public that this is worth pursuing, this should signal that something further must be done.”

Most importantly for Junker, this work is an important step on the path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. “I dedicated my award to the reconciliation of our two peoples,” she says. “It’s an important step toward fulfilling what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission promised Canadians.”

  • Governor General’s Innovation Award winner, 2017
  • Killam Research Fellowship, 2011-’13
  • Founder, Algonquian Linguistic Atlas, atlas-ling.ca
  • Co-creator, eastcree.org, a resource for documenting and preserving the East Cree language