Dr. Michael Walsh of the University of Sydney in Australia answers a question during the language revitalization conference at Fort Rupert Mar. 14-15.

Kwak’wala gets boost

An aboriginal language revitalization program run through the University of Victoria brings its campus north.

FORT RUPERT—An aboriginal language revitalization program run through the University of Victoria brought its campus north for a weekend of resource and idea sharing in the land of many of its students.

The language revitalization program, a partnership between UVic and a number of B.C. First Nations, is designed to preserve and expand the cultural significance of native languages through community-based initiatives, education, technology, song and resource sharing.

“In my last year of college I took a linguistics course, but I didn’t know what it was,” said Dr. Peter Jacobs, one of two keynote speakers and a member of the Squamish and Kwagulth Nations. “Part of the class was you had to go learn a language you’d never spoken before, and I wanted to study Squamish.

“At that time there were maybe 25 people that spoke Squamish; that was more than 20 years ago. Today there’s certainly less than 10.”

Jacobs shared how he created a dictionary of Squamish in an effort to help preserve the language. The other keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Walsh of Sydney, Australia, who has devoted his career to the research and revitalization of Australian aboriginal languages, including introducing it into school curricula.

That has been part of the University of Victoria program, which features a bachelor of education program designed to train future aboriginal language teachers.

“We wanted to graduate a cohort of students who have their bachelor of education in language and who are also proficient Kwak’wala speakers,” said Sara Child, the program’s local language coordinator who also teaches an introductory Kwak’wala 11 program at Port Hardy Secondary School. “The main goal we wanted to express was building awareness and the need to put more energy into revitalization of our languages.”

One of the program’s students, Joye Walkus, was taken somewhat by surprise when she learned the scope of the program.

“When I first started the program I had no idea it was going to ladder itself into a bachelor of education,” she said. “The poster I saw was, ‘Learn kwak’wala’. That’s what I wanted to do.”

And that is exactly who the program was designed for, said Child.

“The goals of this conference were to spark that fire and build awareness in our communities of the need,” Child said. “We are gathered together to share resources, to share ideas on how we can strengthen our language revitalization on the North Island.”

The conference featured opening and closing ceremonies complete with singing and dancing, and a variety of workshops.

“Its the life blood of our cultures,” said Ruth Young, director of the Office of Indigenous Affairs and a member of the Cree Nation. “My mom went to residential school when she was very young and she lost her language. She still speaks very little and I never had a chance to learn my language.”

 

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