Photo Credit: Barry Gerding/Black Press Traditional ceremonial blanket is presented to representatives of the EdCan Network last fall at Mount Boucherie Secondary School. EdCan presented a financial award to the school for its successful effort to launch an Indigenous student academy.

Clock is ticking on resurgence of First Nation languages

B.C. Indigenous language diversity unique in Canada

Jordan Coble feels both pride in his culture and a weight of responsibility to ensure the Syilx language is preserved for future generations.

“It’s a wonderful thing to gain— as the heart of any culture is the language— but there is a level of stress and pressure that goes along with that,” said Coble, a Westbank First Nation member who works as the cultural and operations administrator at the Westbank First Nation Sncəwips Heritage Museum.

Coble is referring to the findings of the status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2018 report, assembled by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. It reveals while there is continued progress on Indigenous language revitalization work, there are still serious threats to language vitality as fluent speaking elders pass away, taking their language with them.

“There is an urgent need to document and provide substantial support to ensure that each of the 34 unique First Nations languages and 93-plus dialects in B.C. are maintained for future generations,” stated the report.

Related: Agreement struck to enhance aboriginal education in Central Okanagan

Coble is part of that language resurgence effort, doing his small part as one of 15 students on a four-year language learning program held in Penticton, where he attends learning house classes two days a week.

“It is great that this program has started but ultimately it would be great to see a language program like this taught at learning centres in all of our band communities,” he said.

“It is a challenging and difficult to learn the language, but you also get a reassuring sense of pride in our culture and our history.

“But learning the language becomes a responsibility that needs to be passed on to future generations in a way that is authentic and accurate as possible.”

Part of the difficulty comes from the variety of dialects that exist within the traditional Syilx territory that extends from the southern B.C. Interior into Washington state.

The FPCC report cited several issues facing Indigenous language preservation:

* In 2018, there were 4,132 fluent speakers of First Nations languages in B.C.; this is a decrease of 1,157 since 2014

*Just over half (52 per cent) of the fluent speakers are aged 65 or older, one reason why the fluent speaker numbers are declining

* Younger people have few opportunities to learn their languages

* All Indigenous communities continue to contend with a lack language resources, a scenario that has not changed much since 2014

B.C. is unique within Canada when it comes to Indigenous language diversity, according to the FPCC report.

Within Canada, B.C.’s languages make up more than 50 per cent of the approximately 61 languages indigenous to our country.

Pauline Terbasket, executive director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, said the FPCC report just reinforces what few already don’t doubt—that Indigenous languages passed on for hundreds of years prior to immigrants settling in North America are in danger of being lost.

“We are seeing some progress about language preservation in the bigger picture, the hope being to revitalize our language and our culture. That is the hope,” Terbasket said.

She said the younger generation, people like Coble, are increasingly dedicating themselves to learning their native language, and specifically in the Central Okanagan School District expanding cultural learning curriculums for Indigenous students at schools like Mount Boucherie Secondary School have generated a positive groundswell of support within the education community and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Related: National recognition for West Kelowna school Indigenous academy

“We do our best to help support those efforts but there will probably never be enough resources. We have to be creative and innovative in how we support our members learning to speak our languages,” she said.

“That work is humbling and arduous, but it is needed.”

The FPCC report cites a number of methods on how to revitalize B.C. First Nation languages such as increased documentation and archival efforts, the role individuals can play, First Nations chief and council members advocating for language policy collaboration opportunities and better public school and post-secondary system language program learning models.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@BarryGerding
barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

West Kelowna RCMP commander recognized with Order of Merit

Staff Sgt. Duncan Dixon’s career spans an impressive 28 years with the RCMP

BC SPCA Kelowna holiday bake sale kicks off Nov. 7

Event will help to raise money for stray and neglected animals

Former Kelowna-based B.C. Dragoons leader pleads guilty to possession of child porn

Sean David Parker pleaded guilty to possession of child porn on Monday

Rutland Residents Association intends to file a complaint with provincial ombudsmen over low-barrier housing

Complaint claims low-barrier housing has had a negative impact on their neighbourhood.

Two UBC professors aim to bridge cultural divide through humanities

Humanities hubs have been created on both the Vancouver and Okanagan UBC campuses

Beauty boutique committed to cleaner, greener industry

The Green Vanity accepts empty product containers for recycling

B.C. to advocate for frustrated, confused, unhappy cellphone users, says premier

Maple Ridge New Democrat Bob D’Eith to advocate for more affordable and transparent cellphone options

WATCH: Coldstream garage fire as hot as 275 C: deputy fire Chief

Shop fire potential for ‘one heck of a fireworks show,’ O’Hara says

North Okanagan women head up college board

Gloria Morgan named chair and Juliette Cunningham vice-chair Tuesday

Artist waves women’s flag in Okanagan

SheShe declares femininity with all-encompassing exhibit

B.C. man who killed Belgian tourist near Boston Bar gets life in prison, no parole until 2042

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Christelle Sakkalis

‘Very disrespectful’: B.C. first responder irked by motorists recording collisions on cellphones

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue deputy chief challenges motorists to break the habit

Man accused in fatal Salmon Arm church shooting also charged with arson

Parmenter family home badly damaged by fire a month before killing

Most Read