Building bridges of reconciliation | UNB
University of New Brunswick est.1785

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100th Anniversary Edition

Alumni News | Vol. 24 No. 2 | Spring 2016

Building bridges of reconciliation

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | 100th Anniversary Edition

She’s known as the language warrior; and for decades, Imelda Perley (BA’94, MEd’02), has been working tirelessly to preserve and promote her Wolastoqey/Maliseet language, culture and traditions.  

When she was a mature student at UNB in the early 1990s, Elder Perley began recording the remaining Elders, who were mother tongue Wolastoqi speakers, in the Aboriginal communities of New Brunswick. She was determined to preserve her endangered first language for her own and future generations. 

“My husband David and I came from a time when we weren’t even allowed to use our own language,” says Elder Perley, who has been teaching Maliseet language and Wabanaki Worldview courses at UNB for more than 20 years. “Language has understandings, beliefs, values and ways of being that are hard to convey in translation. It contains the roots of a people’s identity, and when a language is lost, this undermines the social, cultural and spiritual foundations of its speakers.” 

Elder Perley has, for many years, brought the Wolastoqey/Maliseet language, worldviews, traditions and ceremonies to expectant mothers, mothers of newborns and mothers of young children in Aboriginal communities in New Brunswick. She conducts these linguistic and maternal mental health visits as part of From the Womb and Beyond, a culturally based Health Canada Initiative. 

“I do this with moms and expectant mons, and the babies begin hearing our language even before they’re born,” says Elder Perley, who received the 2001 Lieutenant-Governor’s Early Childhood Literacy Award recognizing contributions made by storytellers in promoting literacy. 

As elder-in-residence at UNB, Elder Perley helps Aboriginal students to fully connect with their language, culture and spiritual traditions. She supports them in attaining academic success and advancing their career opportunities through a holistic integration of mind, body and spirit. 

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