First Nations culture is an important part of British Columbia’s identity and revitalizing and preserving Indigenous language is a now a top priority for the province’s NDP government.
“The revitalization of these languages is hugely important to Indigenous communities, to all communities, and in fact, to the well-being of our province,” says Deputy Premier Carole James. “Language is fundamental to who we are, where we’ve come from, and what will live on after we’re gone.”
There are 34 unique Indigenous languages in British Columbia and more than 90 different dialects. They represent 60 per cent of all Indigenous languages in the country ? giving the province the distinction of having the greatest diversity in Canada.”
“When we talk about language, it’s hugely important we use collaboration, communication, and inclusion,” says elder Butch Dick.
And that’s why the B.C. government is investing $50 million to make sure the First Nation languages aren’t lost.
“This is a significant investment,” says Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation minister Scott Fraser. “I’m proud to be part of a government that recognizes that Indigenous languages have been underfunded for far too long.”
The goal is to try and reverse the damage done by colonization and residential schools.
“It will take sustained effort and investment over the long term to address the more than 150 years of systemic government policies, including the residential school system, that aimed to extinguish our voices and our languages,” explains Cynthia Callison, board chair for the First Peoples’ Cultural Council.
But already, a whole new generation is taking on the big challenge of trying to learn their traditional languages.
“I was told they’re really hard to pronounce, there are lots of different dialects, there’s barely anyone to speak with and if you learn this language, they’ll be nobody to talk to but yourself,” laughs Gisele Martin of Toquaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island. “I got discouraged many, many times but I kept trying.”