Forgotten language saved from extinction on Vancouver Island

Forgotten language saved from extinction on Vancouver Island

WATCH: A language that was close to being extinct has received new life. Skye Ryan reports.

A language that was headed for extinction and a side note in the history books is being revived for a whole new generation of Island students.

Hul’Q’Umi’Num was once spoken across our coast, but as First Nations elders who knew it pass away, an intensive effort has been underway to preserve the language and the culture that was at stake of being lost with them. Part of that effort is to teach the language to students from Duncan to Qualicum Beach. On Thursday, they had a chance to celebrate at Ladysmith Secondary.

“I think it’s amazing and everyone should keep learning it,” 11-year-old Chloe Wilson said.

“That just overwhelms me you know,” Cowichan Tribes Elder Merle Seymour.

“It’s a good feeling to hear young kids speaking Hul’Q’Umi’Num.”

Hul’Q’Umi’Num is a Coast Salish language that was spoken here long before the arrival of Europeans. When residential schools took children from their homes and barred them from speaking it, a slow death of the language began as generation after generation of First Nations children grew up not knowing it.

Sixty-seven-year-old Merle Seymour was one of those children.

“Weren’t allowed to speak Hul’Q’Umi’Num,” Seymour said.

“We got punished for that so I’m really glad it’s coming back.”

Thi Hul’Q’Umi’Num program started four years ago and is run in several Vancouver Island school districts. Children elementary school age through high school are learning not just words but full sentences, and even teaching it to their parents.

“Yes, yes, he’s been teaching me things here and there and I catch on and I listen to him,” Della Daniels said while referring to her eight-year-old son.

“To talk the language in the homes, in the school, wherever they go it means we’re saving it,” Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief John Wesley said.

“Once our elders start hearing our students speak our elders become very excited and happy,” Mandy Jones of Ladysmith Secondary’s Aboriginal Education program.

“It wakes up the language that has been sleeping inside them. That’s how important it is.”

Elven-year-old Chloe Wilson surprised her Coast Salish grandfather with Good Morning in Hul’Q’Umi’Num recently.

“Yeah he had no clue [that I knew],” Wilson said.

“It was a very awesome moment,” she said.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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