Time running out for living languages in BC

All of British Columbia’s 34 living First Nations languages are critically endangered and many face the loss of their last generation of fluent speakers within the next decade.

In order to stem this, a major symposium will take place in Penticton and Kelowna later this week, to bring together BC Indigenous communities and post-secondary institutions to develop strategies for protecting the future of these languages. Organizers say it’s an important next step of a new Indigenous language fluency degree program, which will be delivered in partnership between Indigenous communities, Indigenous institutes and public post-secondary institutions across the province.

“When languages are at risk, the ecological and environmental knowledge they encode is also endangered,” says Jeannette Armstrong, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Philosophy and assistant professor of Indigenous studies at UBC Okanagan.

“The alarming lack of traction in protecting these languages has pushed communities and institutions to innovate and critically examine the situations they face,” says Armstrong. “Time is literally running out on living languages across the province.”

Verna Billy Minnabarriet is chair of the Board of Directors of the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association, one of the initiative’s founding partners. She notes the organization “looks forward to collaborating with Indigenous language experts, First Nation communities and post-secondary institutes to realize this vision of language fluency revitalization. Our vision is to support community post-secondary institutes that ensure and promote indigenous language, culture and knowledge programs.”

The Indigenous Language Fluency Symposium, takes place at the En’owkin Centre in Penticton and UBC Okanagan in Kelowna February 17 to 19, will bring together communities, institutions, traditional knowledge holders and scholars from BC, Hawaii, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ontario to address the current situation by sharing innovations in programming and approaches currently underway.

“This provides an opportunity for people to share, learn, and co-create a common body of knowledge, from which we can develop strategies for a collaborative, cross-institutional Indigenous Language Fluency degree,” says Patricia Shaw, professor of Linguistic Anthropology at UBC Vancouver.

According to Judy Thompson, assistant professor in the First Nations Studies program at the University of Northern British Columbia, the “partnerships built through the symposium will be integrated into an expanded network of expertise and experience which will help us move forward on a degree program that can be delivered at many institutions around this province, using a flexible structure that is responsive to the diverse, and increasingly dire situations faced by BC’s Indigenous languages.”

About the symposium

The three-day meeting, February 17 to 19, will open with a welcoming feast hosted by En’owkin Centre in Penticton, with a keynote presentation and four symposium sessions at UBC’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna.

The meeting has been organized by a consortium of post-secondary institutions and First Nations organizations, including:

  • Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a (Gitwinksihlkw)
  • University of Northern British Columbia (Prince George)
  • Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (Merritt)
  • Okanagan Indian Education Resources Society — En’owkin Centre (Penticton)
  • University of British Columbia (Okanagan and Vancouver)
  • First Nations Education Steering Committee
  • Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association

The partner organizations have committed to develop a language fluency framework that supports the language revitalization needs of Indigenous peoples in BC. The consortium includes three Aboriginal-controlled institutes, with a geographical scope encompassing most of the mainland of British Columbia, and two key BC First Nations Education organizations.

To find out more, visit: icer.ok.ubc.ca/events/Indigenous_Languages_Fluency_Symposium

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