Hearing his native language spoken out loud stirs up strong memories in Bill Recalma, which can be seen clearly in winces and smiles on his face.
It has been 63 years since his Great Uncle Alfred told a then eight-year-old Recalma to hold onto the Qualicum First Nation’s Pentl’ach language, but to never speak it for fear of beatings in residential school. Now silver haired and feeling brave, he is sharing what’s been stored up like a locket inside him for decades.
“Oh it’s great that our language is no longer extinct, and now it’s being recognized,” Recalma, a member of the Qualicum First Nation told CHEK News on Thursday.
After years of hard work by Qualicum members researching their language, which was declared extinct after its last fluent speaker died in the 1940s, and Recalma sharing his memories of words and meanings, the First People’s Cultural Council has just declared it the 35th Distinct Indigenous Language in B.C.
“We were brought up under the knowledge that our language is extinct, then the younger generation, like Mat and Jessie, researched it and they found out that languages don’t become extinct, they just go to sleep,” says Recalma.
“You can’t kill a language, it’s not something that can fully disappear. It informs the land around us, and it informs the land around us,” said Mat Andreatta, a language researcher and member of the Qualicum First Nation.
A collection of Pentl’ach words and meanings are now being gathered to ensure it will never go quiet again.
“It’s not only for us, it’s for the people in our past, it’s for our ancestors and it’s also for our future generations,” said Andreatta.
“We’re going to share our language, we’re not going to hide it,” says Recalma.
The now 71-year-old Recalma is certain, his great uncle would be proud of.
“He’d go yes sir, yes sir, yes sir. He was a very kind old soul,” Recalma said, smiling.
As a language long pushed down, is reawakened on the Qualicum First Nation.