As a Canadian business owner, particularly if you’re operating in Canada’s far north, you know the importance of reaching out to local aboriginal communities. One possible way to make your business more accessible to First Nations customers is to give people the opportunity to shop in a language that better represents their heritage. As an example, the far-north grocery chain Northern (known in some places as Northmart) has introduced indigenous language signage in some locations.
Indigenous Signage in Northmart Stores
The signage initiative in Northmart stores is just one step in an ongoing effort to preserve and protect indigenous culture and languages in far-north communities, particularly among indigenous youth populations. Many of Canada’s regional aboriginal dialects are in danger of dying out, and encouraging young people to learn the languages is one way to stop their decline.
Northmart’s plan began in a school district in the Northwest Territories in 2015. An aboriginal language teacher in the Hay River First Nation Reserve took students to a local store to teach them the indigenous words for a bunch of common grocery items. Noticing the way the class engaged the kids, Northmart decided to implement QR codes that offer translations for products when scanned. Working closely with local schools, they eventually changed their signage to reflect the local dialect.
As of 2018, around 80 stores, located mostly in the Northwest Territories, have signage in one of several local First Nations’ dialects displayed alongside English and French. It’s not just written language. Those translation QR codes provide an audio recording of a person saying a given word, so language-learners can hear the correct pronunciation.
How Have Northmart’s Indigenous-Language Signs Been Received?
So far, the signage seems to be a hit, leading to the question of whether more Canadian grocery chains should follow suit. Derek Reimer, director of business development for the Northwest Company (the parent company of Northern and Northmart), says that so far, the community elders and teachers that he’s spoken with see the signage as a step in the right direction for preserving indigenous languages and culture.
How Might Other Canadian Chains Benefit from Indigenous-Language Signs?
You might be wondering what this means for your business, and your customers. Any business stands to benefit from increasing the number of people who are able to read and understand their signs.
Adopting indigenous language signage and QR codes is a step toward improving the local sense of community and the strength of your customer base. Grocery stores in Canada’s far north face a variety of challenges, including the high cost and difficulty of getting fresh food products shipped to store shelves. Introducing signage in local dialects is a possible strategy for improving your customer experience and making sure those customers return.
With plans to introduce aboriginal-language signs in every Northern or Northmart location that has customers who speak a local dialect, the hope is that soon, the connection between indigenous peoples and their languages will be even stronger. Northmart is the first major grocery chain in Canada to use such an initiative, but other grocery chains could benefit from following suit and developing similar programs.