Photo: Capital News files Jordan Coble.

Exploring First Nation languages in B.C.

B.C. Indigenous language diversity unique

Jordan Coble feels both pride in his culture and a weight of responsibility to ensure the Sylix 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 Sylix 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

Mathieu Caron leads Chilliwack Chiefs to shutout win over Wenatchee Wild

Chilliwack’s netminder stopped 29 pucks Saturday night in a BCHL Showcase game at Prospera Centre.

Chilliwack Chiefs erase three goal deficit in overtime win

Down 3-0 to the Cowichan Capitals, the Chiefs came back to win 4-3 in the BCHL Showcase match.

Chilliwack man feeling helpless about puppy stolen while at church

Evidence of neighbour trespassing and accusing him of dog neglect not enough for RCMP

UPDATE: Missing Chilliwack man has been found

Chilliwack RCMP is thanking the public for keeping an eye out

UPDATED: Chilliwack councillor’s expenses being sent to the RCMP

Decision to have expenses audited and shared with RCMP taken at special meeting of council

VIDEO: Foster and adopted children claimed and named

Traditional ceremony welcomes children into community

5 to start your day

Maple Ridge students send books to fire-destroyed school, teen stabbed in Surrey park and more

Yowza! Twerk, emoji and facepalm are added to Scrabble dictionary, OK?

Merriam-Webster has announced 300 new words have been added to the spelling game

LGBTQ activists, allies in Victoria counter anti-SOGI protest with rally of their own

Lower Mainland activists plan to protest SOGI on legislature lawn, Sept. 29

Cities make power play for new fiscal order with eye to 2019 federal election

Trudeau ordered Champagne to talk with provinces and territories about ways to “address the timeliness of the flow of funds” to projects.

Ottawa area residents take stock of tornado rubble as Ford tours the ruins

A tornado on Friday afternoon tore roofs off of homes, overturned cars and felled power lines in the Ottawa community of Dunrobin and in Gatineau, Que.

Trudeau arrives at United Nations, hoping to re-establish Canada on world stage

Trudeau is beginning his day at the opening of the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, where he’s scheduled to deliver brief remarks later this afternoon.

B.C.’s FATSO peanut butter to appear on Dragon’s Den

The Victoria company will be featured on the Sept. 27 episode of the popular show highlighting Canadian businesses

Most Read