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Preserving Chaldean Culture in Saskatoon

Kaesir Istifo, a member of Saskatoon's Chaldean community, attends a service in the city. ( CTV News)
Efforts of a community in Saskatoon to preserve one of the oldest languages in human history are paying off.

The number of people in the city of Chaldean descent and speaking the language of the same name has grown roughly 50 times in the last three decades, according to Kaesir Istifo, one of the members of Saskatoon's Chaldean community.

Istifo immigrated to Saskatoon from Baghdad following the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. He refers to himself as Chaldean, a tribe from Iraq with roots dating back to 10th Century B.C. The group's language, also called Chaldean, has roots in Aramaic. Aramaic was the language spoken during the time of Jesus Christ in what was then referred to as the Mesopotamia region.

Just over 200,000 people across the world speak Aramaic today, and even fewer speak the Chaldean dialect.

"When I first got here, there was only 30 people in total that were in the city that spoke Chaldean," Istifo said of arriving in Saskatoon. Now, over 1,500 Chaldeans live in the city.

For the past three decades, Istifo has helped grow the Chaldean community in Saskatoon, sponsoring family members and other fellow Chaldeans. The community even runs its own school on Saturdays to teach future generations about its culture and language.

"We have about 170 of our own kids registered in there. They're very much integrated into the community. They're very much Canadianized, which is good," he said.

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