Timmy Masso is heading into Grade 12 at Ucluelet Secondary School this September, but he’s already earned a University of Victoria diploma and is halfway through a Bachelor of Education degree.
The 17 year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member is celebrating the completion of a two-year Indigenous Language Revitalization Diploma at UVic.
“Thank you to all the people who have helped me on my journey. There’s so many people, I could go on forever about all the people who helped me out,” Masso told the Westerly News.
The diploma was the second of four steps towards UVic’s Bachelor of Education degree and followed Masso’s completion of a Nuu-chah-nulth Language Proficiency Certificate program in 2019.
The certificate program was the first of its kind to be offered through UVic and was launched in partnership with North Island College and Quuquuatsa Language Society.
Masso was the new program’s youngest enrolee when he entered the class in 2018 and he had been a key voice in its fruition. As a Grade 8 student, Masso lobbied hard for more opportunities to learn the Nuu Chah Nulth language and an impromptu and impassioned speech he made to a 2016 Assembly of First Nations meeting in Victoria spurred nation-wide media coverage that provided one of the sparks needed for the Nuu-chah-nulth Language Proficiency Certificate program to be launched.
“I was advocating to get language in schools and one of the biggest issues was there were no accredited teachers to teach the language,” Masso told the Westerly News. “That was one of the biggest problems with trying to get language in the schools, so I went to meetings across B.C. and Canada trying to get someone to step up to the plate to give Elders a certificate or a degree, so they would be able to come into the school and get paid the same as the teacher for their time…Through these meetings, universities actually stepped up to the plate and said they were going to try to start putting on more programs that get Indigenous people certified as teachers.”
The first certificate program was offered at Port Alberni’s North Island College campus with teachers selected by the Quuquuatsa Language Society and hired by UVic.
Masso fought hard to join the inaugural program, despite his young age, and said he was encouraged to do so by linguist Dr. Adam Werle.
“[Werle] was talking to me one day and he said that maybe it was time I stepped away from advocating and actually start trying to learn my language. So, because I fought so hard to get the class in Port [Alberni] for all the Nuu chah nulth speakers, I decided to try to enter the class as well,” Masso said.
“I told them that the only place I can actually learn my language is through their program and I have a right to learn my language, so they allowed me to be in the class.”
With the diploma in hand, Masso is now able to serve as a teaching assistant for Nuu chah nulth classes, which he hopes to do at West Coast schools. He noted he completed a practicum at Ucluelet Elementary School in November.
“At first, I was really actually kind of terrified to go into a class with 15 Grade 1’s but, once I entered the class, it was just amazing to see how fast they picked up the language,” he said. “I really do hope that, with this diploma, I can teach elementary school students.”
While a majority of his classmates who completed the Language Revitalization Diploma will now move into the third year of Uvic’s four-year Bachelor of Education program, Masso does not yet have the prerequisites he needs and will earn in Grade 12.
He said he hopes to complete the full degree when he can and plans to remain heavily active in revitalizing the Nuu chah nulth language locally while he completes high school.
“I’ve found out over the past five years that language connects you to a place, it connects you to a home,” he said. “You can break down a word and see each individual part and so many of those words come from a specific place and a specific sound and, when you break that down, you’re able to see how the world looked when that word first came to be. It’s just amazing to see that these words can connect you to a past, they can connect you to a place and, I find, when I speak my language it connects me to my great grandfathers and great grandmothers and all my ancestors that are behind me.”
He added that language can also offer insight to a region’s culture and environment.
“Nuu chah nulth is split up into four separate dialects and each one of those dialects have their separate words that all sound different, but after being in this program and hearing all these speakers, you can understand each sound comes from a specific place,” he said.
“The Ucluelet dialect here, the sound is really soft…But the central dialect, which is Tofino and Tla-o-qui-aht, all the sounds have a little bit more harshness to them and I like to think it’s because of the surrounding wilderness and ecosystem that’s there. You look at Tofino and it’s got such rough tides and amazing pull there, but then you look here in Ucluelet and it’s calmer, it’s got a peacefulness to it and you see that in the language.”
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