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Language expert from New York visits Sask. and shares experiences with Indigenous communities

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A man from New York has studied more than 50 languages and has been sharing his skill with the world through his YouTube channel.

Recently, Arieh Smith visited Loon Lake, Sask. and Lloydminster, Alta, where he shared experiences with Indigenous communities and wowed local residents with his Cree language skills.

In 2008, he spent a year in Beijing and noticed he picked up the language quite well. Since then, he has been travelling the world, making cross-cultural connections, and sharing his experiences on social media through the handle “Xiaomanyc.”

"People thought it was really interesting to see this white guy, all of the sudden, busting out Chinese, in a Chinese restaurant, and Chinese people would get very excited," Smith said.

Smith gained enough of a following to leave his job as a software engineer and pursue his passion full time.

It was a video he shared of his time with the Navajo in the southwest United States that sparked an unexpected response from various Indigenous groups.

"It turns out, some of the people in the world, who most value what I can do, are Indigenous tribes in North America whose languages are dying," Smith explained.

Patrick Mitsuing, from Makwa Sahgaiecan First Nation, east of Lloydminster, Alta., has been a long-time fan of “Xiaomanyc” videos on YouTube.

Mitsuing launched “PowWow Times to promote Indigenous culture. His mother, Julia Ouelette, also runs an online language platform called “Repeat After Me Cree,” but he says it’s always a challenge appealing to the younger generation, and that’s where Smith came in handy.

“I had this intuition to reach out to him and see if he would be interested to come to our area and experience Cree culture," Mitsuing said.

Last month, Smith made the trip to Lloydminster, Alta. and Loon Lake, Sask.

Mitsuing took Smith dogsledding, to a sweat lodge and for a traditional meal of rabbit and moose meat. There were plenty of lessons and laughs along the way.

"Our humor is what got us through a lot of tough times that we've had to go through as people and that's retained with us these little jabs of humour that our people carry, but he laughed, you know he really enjoyed it," Mitsuing said.

Mitsuing said he was exposed to his language growing up but connecting to his culture became more of a priority later in life. He said Cree words themselves hold stories through the oral history.

"Nitisiyihkāson, that means my name is, if I were to translate to you, but nitisiyihkāson the root word actually means your bellybutton, and your bellybutton umbilical cord connected to your mother. That’s what that word actually means, is my bellybutton connection to my mother and that means I come from somewhere. I come from this matriarch. I come from a storyline," he explained.

Back home in New York, Smith called his time in Saskatchewan a bucket list trip. He encouraged others to go outside their comfort zone.

"Even had I not made a stab at learning Cree, I think they were very welcoming, but then when you do, and you can break the ice a bit by speaking a bit of the language, people just really opened up," Smith said.

“I'm just going to go up to people and vendors and stuff, speaking in English, and then I'll switch to Chinese."

Smith added, if you’re interested in learning Cree, or any language, you should take advantage of free online resources and keep practicing.

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