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App Helps Preserve Aboriginal Languages

Darrick Baxter TEDx Winnipeg

When software developer Darrick Baxter created an app to help his own family learn their language, Ojibway, he had no idea it would connect him with a global family looking to him to help them preserve their own languages.

Darrick Baxter, President and Native American Tribal App Developer at Winnipeg-based company Ogoki Learning Systems Inc., spoke about his Ojibway People and Language app at TEDxWinnipeg at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre on June 4.

“Like any parent, I bought (my daughter) books and I bought her CDs,” Baxter says. “I even bought her books with CDs. But they failed in their purpose — she never learned Ojibway.” Until he turned to his skill at creating apps four years ago…

It took Baxter about a month to create the Ojibway app to help his then 12-year-old daughter Sarah learn the language on her iPad. Within a couple of weeks Baxter heard the results.

“I was sitting at my kitchen table quietly and I heard my daughter speaking Ojibway,” he recalls. “She was on the phone with her grandmother and she was using the app and speaking Ojibway.”

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Baxter says he never intended to release the app or even share it with anyone, but seeing his daughter connect with another generation made him change his mind.

“I knew I had to share the app with everyone,” Baxter says. “I wanted every parent to experience that magical moment when their child is speaking their native language.”

Darrick Baxter Ojibway App TEDxManitoba

Baxter released the app as a free download about two and a half years ago, and it has since been downloaded over 100,000 times. But he didn’t stop there. With many aboriginal languages in danger of dying out with elders, Baxter wanted to help other tribal groups preserve their languages, so he released the source code of the app online to allow anyone to build a learning app for their own people’s tongue. It has since been downloaded over 40,000 times and Baxter says he has been contacted by aboriginal people from all over the world for help in setting up language apps.

“My phone started ringing at weird hours of the night from numbers I didn’t recognize,” he says. “My source truly went global.”

Baxter estimates that the source code and the work Ogoki is doing is helping create over 60 language apps.

“That’s the help of teachers, the help of students and that’s the help of parents,” he says.

Baxter says he took flak from investment and industry experts for not putting a price tag on the app and for releasing the source code.

“Why not create an app and put it out there and let other people experience it?” he says. “It’s not just about business or about making money.”

See a demo of the app below:

Baxter and Ogoki continue to work with First Nations in Canada, the U.S. and abroad to develop customized learning software.

MTS is a Silver sponsor of TEDxWinnipeg.

Did you attend TEDxWinnipeg and Darrick Baxter’s presentation? Tell us your thoughts below.

Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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