WATCH: The United Nations has declared 2019 as International Year of Indigenous Languages and by the end of the year, a huge new totem pole will stand tall at the University of Victoria. It’s hoped the pole will draw attention to the threats facing Indigenous languages in Canada and as Dean Stoltz reports, one of the country’s most accomplished pole carvers will begin work on it this spring.
A giant windblown cedar has been lying on the forest floor deep in the woods near Bamfield for between 50 and 70 years, but it’s now getting ready to stand tall again and tell the stories of lost First Nations languages.
“Telling the world about it is a really big deal,” said Ucluelet First Nation President and First Nations Education Foundation CEO Les Doiron.
The United Nations has designated 2019 as the year of Indigenous Languages
Indigenous languages account for only .05 per cent of languages spoken in Canadian homes.
The University of Victoria has been chosen by UNESCO and the First Nations Education Foundation as the national location for a Language Revitalization Pole to raise awareness about disappearing native languages.
“We need to create awareness and try to save our languages,” said Doiron. “When I was first appointed and elected to my tribe in 2015, I think we had around 15 fluent speakers and we’re down to about nine now. Our sister tribe that lives next door to us is only a few kilometres away, they have no fluent speakers left.”
Renowned Vancouver Island Carver Tim Paul will have the honour of carving the language revitalization pole.
“It certainly is an honour and it really pays you the deepest respect and homage and everything that we can give back to the grandmothers and the aunts that are long gone is very important,” said Paul.
The pole will be carved at the Ahtsik Gallery on Pacific Rim Highway just outside of Port Alberni.
“The language has to be the conveyor of whatever we do,” added Paul. “The whole project is going to be important because we’re going to pass on and use technology to give to the young children (to learn the language again).”