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Thousands of Indigenous people in B.C. are learning their languages: study

A report has been published tracking Indigenous language learning in B.C. First Peoples’ Cultural Council

According to a recent study, there has been a large number of Indigenous people across B.C. learning their languages.

The study, named Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages, shows that 3,000 Indigenous people have begun learning their languages in the province over the last four years.

“It is great to see the positive impact of increased funding from both levels of government on the number of First Nations language speakers and learners in communities across B.C.,” said Tracey Herbert, First Peoples’ Cultural Council’s CEO.

The comprehensive survey points to federal and provincial government support as a large factor in the increase of participants in language revitalization programs.

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“Since 2018, unprecedented positive actions taken by the provincial and federal governments have directly increased the funding and program support  First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) provides to communities, which has, in turn, contributed to the growth observed in this report,” council staff said in a release.

“With government pledges to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding, we are optimistic that the growth observed in this report will continue.”

It’s the first time the study, which is in its fourth iteration, has included data on all 34 First Nations languages in B.C. across 167 communities and 140,195 people.

The study has found an increase in semi-speakers and immersion learning opportunities, which include an increase of “language nests” for pre-school aged children from 10 to 32 in four years.

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“More children are also learning their First Nations language as their mother tongue at home,” the study said.

“Adult language learning opportunities are also on the rise. Many adults who may not have access to community-run language programs are learning their languages with online language tools.”

Growth for adult learning has been substantial, as there were 27 language mentor teams which have expanded to 150 teams in four years.

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action Report and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) both outline the need to protect and invest in the restoration of Indigenous languages as a human right.

Additionally, the United Nations has declared 2022–2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to raise awareness about language revitalization efforts around the globe.

“As we mobilize for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022–32, I’m pleased to learn from this report that many First Nations communities are making progress on their goals to bring their languages to life,” said British Columbia Assembly of First Nations’ Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

“The hard work of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and other First Nations organizations and the growth of funding and programs are nurturing the progress of language revitalization in the province.”

Teegee said while the latest news is certainly encouraging, more work is still needed to “reverse the damage done by a long history of discriminatory government policies and practices.”

A B.C. Indigenous mother, who is teaching Gitsenimx to her children in their home in Gitanmaax, said the study is very important as it sheds light on understanding strategies that are working.

“One of the main values I see from the 2022 Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages is that it helps us understand the strategies we should be using in community,” Cheyenne Morgan Gwa’amuuk said.

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“There needs to be more training on effective strategies for creating immersion environments and for increasing speaking proficiency. For a long time, our communities have focused on children through the elementary school strategy, but we lacked that adult immersion strategy to train teachers and parents to teach their kids. The most important thing is speaking in the home.”

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