U of R alum's video project celebrates the study of Indigenous language

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: July 26, 2022 8:00 a.m.

U of R Education graduate Wahbi Zarry on location of his documentary 10 Days of Nakota.
U of R Education graduate Wahbi Zarry on location of his documentary 10 Days of Nakota. Photo by Tony QuiƱones

Wahbi Zarry comes by his knowledge of languages honestly. Not only does the Casablanca, Morocco native speak fluent French, Arabic and English, but in the past two years Zarry has tackled learning two Indigenous languages – Cree, documented in his 2020 documentary 10 Days of Cree, and now, Nakota.

Like he did when he ambitiously tried to learn Cree in 10 days, Zarry’s journey towards learning Nakota has been recorded for posterity. The result is 10 Days of Nakota, a half hour documentary and the second episode in a series called Canadian Languages, a series Zarry is producing to help build awareness about Indigenous languages in Canada.

“I think learning an Indigenous language is a wonderful act of Reconciliation,” Zarry says. “I think for Canadians, Truth and Reconciliation is very important and retaining Indigenous languages is very important.”

Zarry says that when he encourages viewers to learn an Indigenous language, he doesn’t mean becoming fluent. Just learning a few words is enough, he says, and that putting in some effort is a personal act of Reconciliation. His interest in Indigenous languages was fueled by his attendance at several conferences where he discovered that many of the world’s First-Peoples’ languages are at risk of disappearing. It’s estimated that there are about 100 fluent Nakota speakers in North America.

To help him achieve his goal, Zarry enlisted the teaching expertise of 10-year-old Crocus Bigeagle who is learning Nakota in school, and Peter Bigstone, from Ocean Man First Nation near Stoughton, Saskatchewan, one of the world’s most adept Nakota speakers. 

Zarry started working on the production in May 2021 with the help of Tony Quiñones, a Regina filmmaker who served as director of photography and editor.

“Our ambition through the documentaries that we produce is to make Indigenous languages of Canada and North America known,” says Zarry. “We believe that they deserve to be learned by the greatest number of people. Our approach is to create quality entertainment through documentaries –but also soon – short and feature films exclusively in Indigenous languages to encourage and facilitate the learning.”

In the future, Zarry is expecting to create a documentary on American Sign Language and perhaps one on the Maori people and language in New Zealand.

“I had a wonderful experience,” says Zarry about attending the U of R. “I think I was blessed to come here. Choosing to attend the University of Regina was one of the best decisions I could have made,” he says. “Whenever I had to deal with someone here they were always welcoming. People were always helping me.”

Zarry will be teaching French in Estevan starting in September.