Efforts underway to save traditional speech

Only one per cent of the Nuu-chah-nulth population speaks the traditional language, but measures are being taken to save it from extinction.

Several initiatives are underway that allow all ages to be a part of the revitalization process, and for many, it is more than just simply about learning a language.

When Victoria Wells shared her interest as an adult learner years ago, she did not foresee the impact her work would have on the community. As a member of the Ehattesaht First Nation, Wells has a passion for reclaiming the history of the aboriginal people and is doing so through education.

Wells was a founding member of the Quuquuatsa Language Society in 2012, a non-profit organization designed to help teach the Nuu-chah-nulth language.

“Only one per cent of the entire Nuu-chah-nulth population speaks the language fluently,” Wells said. “And of that one per cent, only one-tenth are actively engaged through family or community-based sharing.”

Quuquuatsa works in conjunction with the University of Victoria to bring courses to Port Alberni.

Along with adding economic value, Wells said it opens doors for people in the Alberni Valley. The courses are at North Island College and have had students attend from Ucluelet, Ahousaht, Kyuquot and Zebellos.

Wells said the most difficult part of learning the language is making time for it, but she sees it as a hobby.

“Like any hobby, you create time for it,” she said.

Wells incorporates strategies in her home by posting new phrases each day on the bathroom mirror for her 11-year old son to learn. He attends Haa Huu Payuk School, where aboriginal language and culture is a basic component in the curriculum.

“Some students go home and teach words to their parents,” said Gio Mussato, principal at Haa Huu Payak. “So the language is coming back from the brink of extinction.”

To keep the interest among the younger generation, Wells has embraced digital literacy and the Society has made learning universal.

“We are creating digital material for story making for people who don’t have access to elders,” Wells said. “Social media has been instrumental for sharing knowledge.”

Community forums allow young families to stay engaged in the learning process, but a small group go further by meeting face-to-face.

A “language nest” was formed through the Friendship Centre, providing community-based immersion for preschoolers.

“The idea is to immerse kids in the language with no English,” Wells said. “It also fosters the parents to learn.”

She said the learning process has gone from shameful to validating, but often remains an emotional journey for those who experienced the trauma of the residential school days.

“People were physically and emotionally reprimanded for using the language,” Wells said. “Now we don’t have that, but there are still the ghosts that we have to overcome. It is quite remarkable to be a part of that healing movement.”

New courses are starting up next week at North Island College.



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