Language champion earns Board reward

Published

Shania Armstrong has collected a Karmi Sceney Aboriginal Excellence and Leadership award.

The award - one of many presented annually by the NT Board of Studies - recognised her unflagging work to maintain the endangered Pertame (Southern Arrernte) language.

She enlisted the help of the Mparntwe community and its elders to raise the profile of the rarely used language.

The Centralian Senior College graduate said: "Learning and teaching inspired me because I am passionate about keeping my language alive.

"There are around 10 to 20 fluent speakers of Pertame, who are mainly within the grandparent or great-grandparent generation.

"My elders are proud of what I’m doing, and how I’m trying to keep our language strong.

"They have taught me the language and identity, and how it comes from country, and how we can connect with the old people."

The 18-year-old adopted a master-apprentice relationship in the Pertame Language Project — developing teaching resources to retain and revive the language.

She added: "We only teach Pertame at Bradshaw Primary School, but we are trying to teach at more schools this year.

"We’ve made a lot of songs (in Pertame), such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Silent Night, and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.

"The games created in Pertame are skipping, Red Rover using skin names, Duck Duck Goose, and Pertame whispers."

Now working part-time at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, institute languages manager Angela Harris said: "Shania confidently led groups of children in reading Pertame books in holiday programs.

"She is an excellent team player and has significantly contributed to the success of the Pertame project. She goes above and beyond to share her deep knowledge."

Shania said she feels "very proud of myself for winning this award".

"It will inspire others to learn and teach their language."

She plans to become a linguist and pursue her career in Alice Springs.

The award was presented to Shania on 4 February at DoubleTree by Hilton, Alice Springs.

Shania Armstrong (in red) teaching Pertame to children
Shania Armstrong (in red) teaching Pertame to children

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