World’s Indige­nous speak­ers gather in Vic­to­ria

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Brenna OWEN

VAN­COU­VER — Sto:lo Na­tion ed­u­ca­tor Ethel Gard­ner is con­fi­dent that the fate of the Coast Sal­ish lan­guage Halq’emeylem is look­ing up, de­spite its clas­si­fi­ca­tion as crit­i­cally en­dan­gered by UNESCO.

“The lan­guage is alive. It’s def­i­nitely re­vers­ing the trend to­wards ex­tinc­tion,” she said.

Gard­ner, who also goes by her First Na­tion’s name Stelome­thet, served as an elder-in-res­i­dence at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, where she wrote her dis­ser­ta­tion on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Halq’emeylem, pronouced halkah-may-lem, and Sto:lo com­mu­ni­ties of B.C.’s Fraser Val­ley.

Decades of ar­du­ous work to pre­serve Halq’emeylem is pay­ing off as more peo­ple be­gin to learn the lan­guage, she said.

Gard­ner just re­cently com­pleted the four lev­els of Halq’emeylem of­fered at the Univer­sity of the Fraser Val­ley in Chilliwack.

“I’ve been work­ing hard all my life to un­der­stand what hap­pened to the lan­guage and to help those who are ded­i­cated to re­vi­tal­iz­ing it. I hadn’t had time to learn my­self,” she said.

There is only one flu­ent Halq’emeylem speaker, elder Siyamiy­ateliyot or El­iz­a­beth Phillips, who is with Gard­ner this week in Vic­to­ria for Let the Lan­guages Live, a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence fo­cused on ad­vanc­ing the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of global Indige­nous lan­guages. Or­ga­niz­ers es­ti­mate about 1,000 del­e­gates from 20 coun­tries will be at the con­fer­ence, in­clud­ing those with knowl­edge of al­most all of the Indige­nous lan­guages in B.C.

Gard­ner and Phillips are among a small group of Sto:lo lan­guage lead­ers who plan to share their ex­pe­ri­ences on or­ga­niz­ing work­shops that pro­vided im­mer­sion train­ing for Halq’emeylem teach­ers this past win­ter.

“Most of the teach­ers are usu­ally out in the field, in the schools or wher­ever they’re teach­ing,” said Gard­ner. “They’re of­ten the lone ex­pert where they are, without hav­ing much op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with oth­ers. They were elated to come to­gether and share.”

The teach­ers them­selves are still learn­ing, striv­ing for fluency af­ter Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem at­tempted to si­lence gen­er­a­tions of Indige­nous lan­guage speak­ers.

The se­ries of eight work­shops gave 15 emerg­ing and ex­pe­ri­enced Halq’emeylem teach­ers the op­por­tu­nity to try dif­fer­ent teach­ing tech­niques and re­sources, in­clud­ing pod­cast­ing, po­etry, mul­ti­me­dia tools, and us­ing ges­tures to help lan­guage learn­ers avoid re­vert­ing to their first lan­guage.

Af­ter the work­shops, the lan­guage teach­ers paired up for what Gard­ner called “mini practicums,” which brought com­mu­nity mem­bers to­gether, from small chil­dren to elders, so the teach­ers could prac­tice their new im­mer­sion tech­niques.

“At one of the ses­sions the par­tic­i­pants didn’t want to stop. They wanted to con­tinue on. My hope is that there will be some fund­ing avail­able for us to set up more com­mu­nity pi­lots so peo­ple don’t have to go to a public school or a univer­sity in­sti­tu­tion to learn Halq’emeylem,” said Gard­ner.

“Not ev­ery­body is in­ter­ested in get­ting cred­its or work­ing to­wards a de­gree or be­com­ing a teacher, they just want to learn Halq’emeylem,” she added.

The teacher train­ing work­shops were made pos­si­ble by a nearly $95,000 grant from the First Peo­ples’ Cul­tural Coun­cil, the B.C. Crown Corp. re­spon­si­ble for fund­ing Indige­nous lan­guage programmin­g and one of the co-hosts of this week’s con­fer­ence.

Fri­day marked Indige­nous Peo­ples Day in Canada, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment passed the first-ever na­tional First Na­tions, Inuit and Metis lan­guages Act. It af­firms Ot­tawa’s com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing long-term fund­ing for Indige­nous lan­guage re­vi­tal­iza­tion, though de­tails about the amounts and time­lines for new fund­ing have yet to be re­leased.


Indige­nous lan­guage ed­u­ca­tor Dr. Ethel Gard­ner is pho­tographed dur­ing the Indige­nous Lan­guage Con­fer­ence in Vic­to­ria.

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