[lg policy] Exploring First Nation languages in British.Columbia

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Aug 15 11:04:05 EDT 2018

Photo: Capital News files Jordan Coble.
Exploring First Nation languages in B.C.

B.C. Indigenous language diversity unique

   - Barry Gerding
   - Aug. 13, 2018 6:30 a.m.
   - News <https://www.ashcroftcachecreekjournal.com/news/>


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

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

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

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

* 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.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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