B.C. First Nations languages face extinction unless action taken now, report says

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      First Nations languages in British Columbia are hurtling toward "imminent extinction", a new report says.

      But the Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2010 argues that these "critically endangered" languages can be saved if quick action is taken.

      Prepared by the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council and released on April 30, the report notes that, with 32 languages and 59 dialects, B.C. is home to 60 percent of First Nations languages in Canada.

      "Based on three variables for measuring language endangerment (speakers, usage and language resources), all of B.C. First Nations languages are severely endangered or nearly extinct," it states. "Some are already sleeping."

      According to the report, fluent speakers represent 5.1 percent (5,609) of the B.C. First Nations population. "Semi-speakers" comprise 8.2 percent (8,948) of the population, while people learning their language constitute 11.1 percent (12,223).

      Most fluent speakers are over 65 years old. Only 1.5 percent (36) of fluent speakers are under the age of 25.

      The report warns that "if nothing more is done to save the languages, most of the fluent speakers will be gone in approximately five to six years (by about 2016)".

      The Canadian government's assimilation policies and church-run residential schools are largely responsible for the loss of language, the report notes.

      It says that language loss goes hand in hand with the loss of culture and identity, and is "directly related to the troubling health issues many First Nations are facing today".

      "It is important to act now to revitalize and maintain B.C. First Nations languages so that the cultures, identities, health and pride of First Nations communities can also be revived," the report states.

      The report classifies Halkomelem, spoken by First Nations peoples from the Fraser Valley to southeastern Vancouver Island, as severely endangered, noting it has 278 fluent speakers.

      The language of the Squamish people, Skwxwu7mesh snichim, has 10 fluent speakers and is labelled as nearly extinct.

      The report recommends that all of the languages be recorded and documented, and the development of First Nations immersion language programs be promoted.

      It also says off-reserve First Nations people should be included in language revitalization efforts.

      You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.

      Comments

      14 Comments

      Karen G

      May 1, 2010 at 5:14pm

      I have been so aafraid of that, we can't lose our language, our language is who we are, it is our culture, and I am really hoping that the immersion cultural camps will boost the numbers. I have been a resource for the pilot project for UVic when they started the 1st Culture Camp and it was a "GREAT SUCCESS" I look forward to helping anybody that wants to learn our language, All My Relations

      Nathaniel

      May 1, 2010 at 6:22pm

      Aboriginals make up less than 5% of the total population of BC. Even less in the major cities.

      So: 5% of 5% = 0.25% of BC speaks a First Nations language.

      In contrast, in Canada, 22%+ use French as their native language. It makes sense for the government to spend money on keeping it vibrant.

      Majority rules. That's the world we live in. Don't like it? Move to a cabin in the woods. Teach your kids latin. It'd make about as much sense as keeping First Nations languages alive.

      Mike B.

      May 1, 2010 at 9:59pm

      Nathaniel: You're a racist punk!! ALL the Native languages NEED TO BE SAVED from ppl like you!!

      petey j

      May 1, 2010 at 11:35pm

      what will we rename twwasen ?

      Nathaniel

      May 2, 2010 at 11:17am

      Mike- how about you explain to me how I'm racist in that comment? Is it because I mentioned some stats and disagreed with the topic of this article? I'm not sure if you realize this or not, but there's a big difference between neutral point-of-view and racism. I have NO problem with aboriginal people, or any other specific race for that matter.

      Nathaniel

      May 2, 2010 at 11:23am

      Petey- well, we should probably start by spelling Tsawwassen properly, before we figure out what we want to change it to.

      free_bird

      May 2, 2010 at 12:16pm

      Stop being petty Nat. Maybe you need a lesson or two but who am i to tell you anything. One thing you should know though, is the reason why my language and many others are dying. We were forced to speak English. So yes it is the responsibility for this great nation to which you call home to rectify. PS if you don't like it maybe you n the rest of your clan should move back home.

      reads too much

      May 2, 2010 at 1:50pm

      Keeping a language alive is a personal decision, and cannot be legislated by government. However ... preserving the language in a data base is something that government could undertake.

      And parts of the 'lost' B.C. First Nation dialects are recoverable, such as the word lists compiled by Sir Alexander Mackenzie during his 1793 trek to Bella Coola. These word lists were published in his journal as tranliterations.

      Nathaniel

      May 2, 2010 at 3:52pm

      Hmm, well, the paleoindians who first migrated to the Americas originally came through Siberia during the last ice age. So, free_bird, maybe you should go back "home" to Siberia/eastern-Asia. Or we could just both agree that this notion of owning or having a right to a certain piece of land is ludicrous.

      free_bird

      May 2, 2010 at 6:50pm

      Im sure if you were on the other end of things you wouldnt act asthough it were so simple. Is that the best you can do? You have nothing to say as to why or how it came to be this way? Are we not on crown land? Ignorant to say the least.