The Cowichan Tzinquaw Dancers open the first-ever t’uxusthumpsh Vancouver Island Indigenous Language Symposium at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo. The event pulled language teachers, elders, youths and school staff from across the Island together to discuss language revitalization. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Revitalizing indigenous language at heart of Island symposium

About 100 people from across Vancouver Island attended the event in Nanaimo this week

Hul’qumi’num-speaking people need to come together and talk about ideas to save the language and bring back fluency, according to Snuneymuxw elder Gary Manson, a panelist at the first-ever t’uxusthumpsh Vancouver Island Indigenous Language Symposium.

“Fluency is probably non-existent in my village now. There are maybe a handful of elders that can do it if they had somebody to speak to,” said Manson, who called himself a “very good basic teacher” but said he can’t speak fluently. “If you asked me to have a conversation with my sister beside me I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

About 100 language teachers, leaders, elders, youth and school staff from across Vancouver Island came together this week during the symposium at the Port Theatre to share their work, experiences and ideas about revitalization of indigenous languages.

The event was co-hosted by Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools, Cowichan Valley School District, Vancouver Island University and B.C. Ministry of Education.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive that this is something people have been waiting for for a long time, just an opportunity to gather and share our experiences and what we’re doing and to learn from each other,” said Anne Tenning, Nanaimo school district principal of aboriginal education.

There are 34 indigenous languages in B.C. and according to the First People’s Cultural Council, it’s safe to say all are critically endangered. It found, in 2014, there were fewer than 6,000 fluent speakers of indigenous languages.

RELATED: Class work one way to preserve indigenous language

The province announced a $50-million investment this year to help save indigenous languages, and at the symposium, Anne Hill, Ministry of Education indigenous languages coordinator, said the premier has given the minister a mandate to support language revitalization with an expectation that course offerings will be developed in aboriginal languages for the K-12 system.

It’s a “very big mandate” and one that signals the importance of indigenous language learning and work, Hill said, adding like many people at the symposium, the ministry is asking what it can do and how it can support.

“We want to walk alongside you in this journey to revitalize indigenous languages and we’re especially looking to initiatives on trying to work with you and with others on things like the development of a policy to support indigenous language learning separate from French education, on curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 12 learning for indigenous language and on the development of resources,” she said.

School staff shared what they’re doing around language at the event.

School District 85, for example, has new Kwak’wala language and culture camps for kids and hopes to add more each year, Qualicum School District has run a Hul’qumi’num pilot program in schools for the last three years and Tsawout First Nation’s tribal school has a language nest, or immersion program for SENCOTEN.

Rosie McLeod-Shannon, principal of aboriginal education in the Qualicum School District, said the symposium gets other districts on board and seeing the importance of language and culture in schools.

David Underwood with the Tsawout First Nation called the symposium a bridge in communication about revitalization efforts on the Island.

“This gives us a chance to connect with one another,” he said. “It’s good that it’s finally happening.”

In Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools, Hul’qumi’num is taught in more than two dozen schools.

A take-home message from the event for Tenning is that “we need to be bold in doing this work, we need to know that we’re doing the right thing and not be limited by some of the structures and processes within our institutions or our districts,” she said.

“When I heard Florence James [a panelist] say our language now, it’s like gold, in fact it’s more than gold,” she said. “You can’t put a value on it anymore because there’s so few fluent speakers left that it really is now or never.”

She said there’s a sense of urgency to continue work in language revitalization but also a necessity to be humble and mindful about what’s being done and support and uphold culture and language teachers, fluent speakers and elders, but not overtax them because they are in such demand.

The language symposium is expected to happen again but Tenning says it’s a good idea and would speak to collective work and energies if it’s moved into other communities.

There are so many distinct language groups and there’s much to learn from each other, she said.



news@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

School District 70 candidates hold court in Tofino

“Whichever person the communities choose, they will have a person that will represent them well.”

Ucluelet fears orca protection could shut down fisheries

“I beg you to start a process to put a stick in the wheels and slow these people down.”

Ucluelet mayor thanks team at last meeting

Dianne St. Jacques is not running for re-election this month.

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

B.C. passenger caught smoking weed in a car issued $230 fine

Saanich police did a field sobriety test on the driver and deemed it safe for him to drive

Payette invites critics to ‘come and spend a few days’ with her

Governor General Julie Payette made her first official to B.C. back in March

More pot stores expected in B.C. in coming ‘weeks and months’: attorney general

Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth visited the new BC Cannabis Store in the province’s Interior

Telus launches charitable foundation to help vulnerable youth

The Telus Friendly Future Foundation complements other social initiatives by the company, including Mobility for Good

Police say suspicious death of B.C. artist ruled a homicide

Patrick Zube Aylward’s body was found in a residence on a rural road outside of Seton Portage, west of Lillooet, B.C.

Temporary roads being built in areas affected by landslide in northern B.C.

Emergency Management BC news release says Disaster Financial Assistance is available to eligible residents of the Peace River Regional District who may have been affected by the landslides

B.C. tickets win big in Lotto Max draw

Jackpot carried over; B.C. tickets share Max Millions prizes

Most Read