Opinion: On the road to reconciliation, representing Indigenous language is a valuable ‘small step’

Opinion: On the road to reconciliation, representing Indigenous language is a valuable 'small step'
MÁLEXEŁ, or the word Malahat written in its traditional Indigenous language, is shown in this CHEK News screencap.

Words are important. As is language. Which is why an initiative, started by CHEK News staffer Tchadas Leo and embraced by the TV station is, in his words, “a small step on the road to reconciliation.”

Tchadas, who also hosts Our Native Land, the CHEK podcast and TV show, covers many indigenous stories on the island and in British Columbia. He came up with the idea of using accurate, language-based names and titles on stories.

There are myriad languages spoken on the Island, but often these identifiers – name keys or lower-thirds as we call them – are anglicized versions.

Tchadas thought it would be a good idea to change that.

“I had been covering a gathering of many Indigenous groups on the Island and I had many of the attendees write down specific spellings and symbols for me. Some were symbols, some unusual spellings,” he said.

It occurred to him it would be more accurate, and respectful, to put together a database at the station that all reporters and editors could access.

He researched traditional names for Indigenous communities, school names and such, and took them to the station.

Two production staffers, Doug Birtwistle and graphics producer Scott Ashton, took the original names and built them into the station’s database.

Now, any editorial staffers can cut and paste from the database and make sure the names onscreen are accurate.

Scott says it was a case of finding a font that contained all the characters we were looking for and building a template that could be used for names and titles onscreen.

Here’s some examples of the language that would now appear clearly

1) Lekwungen: həlitxʷ tθə lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ which means “Bringing lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ Language Back to Life,” according to the Songhees Nation website.

2) Tchadas just used the spelling of Malahat on a locator key which looks like this, MÁLEXEŁ, which can be viewed at the top of this story.

3) A third sample that would be used is complicated words such as this one: čɛgətštəm tums čičʊy ʔitəs toχʷʊxʷəs nəms kʷ haʔyɛʔəm kʷ t̓ᶿɩjɛqop.

In the Xwemalhkwu (Homalco) First Nation language it translates to, “We will help our children learn how to make the cedar hats.”

The CHEK staffers involved said doing all this was no big deal. But it was a big deal nonetheless.

We are seeing, increasingly on Vancouver Island, traditional First Nations names on street signs, on libraries and in all communities.

So it’s a good thing we’re seeing it on our TV screens too. As Tchadas says, it’s a visible and tangible step for reconciliation. Our viewers, Indigenous and non-indigenous, will appreciate the accuracy.

Ian Haysom is consulting editor for CHEK Media

The Esquimalt library is pictured.

Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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