"Are you in interested in Blackfoot? I'm always looking for new recruits," said Louis Soop to a group of students in MacHall.
A passionate educator, Soop is the instructor of the Introduction to Blackfoot class offered at the University of Calgary.
A painter, traditional dancer, well-known storyteller and instructor of the Blackfoot language, Soop has been active in sharing his knowledge and culture for many years.
Brought up speaking Blackfoot, he learned English only when he entered school.
The Blackfoot First Nation stretches across southern Alberta and Montana. Some linguistic differences exist across the region.
It is estimated there are 8,000 speakers among the 14,000 Blackfoot living in Canada. In the United States there are only about 100 fluent speakers of the language.
"I'm not only teaching the language," said Soop. "I talk to the students about ceremonies, about traditional activities and storytelling."
Each class consists of a language lesson as well as a cultural lesson on topics such as songs, drumming and sign language.
In future classes, students will be acting out a traditional story in groups, each student reading a part. History, society and themes of respect and humour are interwoven into the classes.
"I want students to take away expressions that they can use to talk to Blackfoot people, or just for fun with each other," said Soop.
If the laughter that can be heard echoing from the classroom is any indication, the Blackfoot class is well received, he said.
Third-year linguistics student Kristin Savage is one of the students in Soop's class.
She said the class is challenging. Savage has been having some difficulty producing some of the sounds but she said the class is beneficial
"I think it's making me grow," she said.
Savage already speaks several languages, and she chose to study Blackfoot in order to start from the basics and to find some tricks to language learning.
"It's important that we don't put less value on a language just because less people speak it," said Savage.
Soop said learning a language allows people to gain a better understanding of the people's history and culture.
"It's like any language. It's an experience to know how some other people converse, how they talk and some of their ceremonies and history," said Soop.
Numbers of Blackfoot speakers may be low, but there is currently a youth education program available in schools.
No schools offer Blackfoot immersion in the Calgary area. However, there is an Alberta Education Blackfoot Language and Culture program for kindergarten through grade 12.
As well, the Kainai Board of Education oversees six schools from elementary through high school. Schools in the town of Stand Off, southwest of Lethbridge, are mandated by the Kainai Board of Educaation.
The key objective of the Kainai studies program is "to strengthen the Blackfoot language and increase knowledge of our culture and history," according to their website.
The Blackfoot alphabet consists of 12 letters and one glottal stop. There are both silent and pronounced combinations of sounds such as 'wa'. The 'h' can be a soft or guttural sound that Soop compares to a gargle.
"I always tell students, if you can gargle, you'll pass this class for sure," said Soop.
Although the university is not planning to offer a higher level Blackfoot language class in the future, introductory Blackfoot will likely be offered again in the fall.
"I'm always talking about something humorous. We have a lot of fun," said Soop.