Jordan Coble of the Westbank First Nation and Levi Bent of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band did a joint presentation in nsyilxcən at the Syilx Language House’s celebration of their third year last April. Steve Kidd/Western News

Critically endangered language being brought back to life

Syilx Language House nears end of first four-year program

Making a four-minute video was an emotional experience for Syilx language teacher Michele Johnson.

In the film, students in their fourth year of study at the Syilx Language House tell stories in nsyilxcən, “like champions” as Johnson describes it.

“I’m a teacher. So while they were speaking, I was feeling really proud and I had a tear in my eye, and I expressed to them how proud I was and how far we’ve come,” said Johnson. “And then when the day was over, I got in my car and closed the door. And I just cried. And it was like, tears of joy and relief.

“All of us have worked so hard I’m glad I took that moment to put them on film. And you can see in the film, they didn’t even look really that nervous … they were just proud, we can speak now.”

Johnson said one of the reasons they’re working so hard to reclaim their language, nsyilxcən, is that hundreds of years of colonization almost erased it.

“At the same time, they tragically affected our community’s health and well being and sense of sovereignty,” said Johnson. “Our stories are vitally important. They’re a big part of who we are as Syilx people and the reason we’re learning the language is so we can express ourselves as Syilx people.”

Connecting to the past is important, she explained, but they also want to use their language to connect to the future.

“We’re putting in all this time so we’re able to speak about anything, including healing our communities from the inside through language, empowering ourselves and expressing our individualism,” said Johnson.”We feel like learning our language vitally connects us to the future of ourselves as people.”

The Syilx Language house is a pilot project, Johnson said, proving the success of the teaching model with a results-driven program.

Related: Sylix Language House celebrates third year

And according to Johnson, every fluent speaker they can create could have a huge influence going forward: each fluent speaker could create tens, if not hundreds, of fluent speakers.

“Now we’re fundraising to grow the program,” said Johnson. “We want to start 30 to 60 people by next September. And any help with fundraising is welcome.

“Every $50,000 we can raise is a new fluent speaker by 2024.”

Being one of a small number of people fluent in nsyilxcən has its challenges too.

“I think we all feel that joy of being able to speak our language, that the elders can understand us,” said Johnson, adding that there is also loneliness. “Each one of us, it’s as though we’re entering into the same sense of loneliness that the elders have because they’re the remaining speakers of our critically endangered language.

“That’s why we have to maintain our sense of hope and keep working as hard as we’re working so that all of my current students will have 100 more people to speak with.”


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
Email me or message me on Facebook
Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

ChargerQuest expands its EV charging network into Kelowna

The new stations can be found at Manteo Beach Resort and the Eldorado Hotel

Kelowna resident warns North Glenmore community of active thieves in the area

Two thieves stole a pontoon boat from a residence on May 23

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Penticton Search and Rescue airlifts injured mountain biker near Naramata

The Penticton Fire Department initially took the call and attended to the injured biker.

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Vancouver Foundation grants benefit Okanagan-Shuswap residents

Grants of up to $500 available for ideas that connect people socially or involve sharing skills

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Water quality advisory rescinded for Central Okanagan system

Turbidity levels improve enough to rescind advisory issued for Killiney Beach system May 11

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

UPDATE: Two sent to hospital following Okanagan highway accident

Drivers in head-on collision air-lifted to hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Most Read