Jordan Coble of the Westbank First Nation and Levi Bent of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band did a joint presentation in nsyilxcən at the Syilx Language House’s celebration of their third year last April. Steve Kidd/Western News

Critically endangered language being brought back to life

Syilx Language House nears end of first four-year program

Making a four-minute video was an emotional experience for Syilx language teacher Michele Johnson.

In the film, students in their fourth year of study at the Syilx Language House tell stories in nsyilxcən, “like champions” as Johnson describes it.

“I’m a teacher. So while they were speaking, I was feeling really proud and I had a tear in my eye, and I expressed to them how proud I was and how far we’ve come,” said Johnson. “And then when the day was over, I got in my car and closed the door. And I just cried. And it was like, tears of joy and relief.

“All of us have worked so hard I’m glad I took that moment to put them on film. And you can see in the film, they didn’t even look really that nervous … they were just proud, we can speak now.”

Johnson said one of the reasons they’re working so hard to reclaim their language, nsyilxcən, is that hundreds of years of colonization almost erased it.

“At the same time, they tragically affected our community’s health and well being and sense of sovereignty,” said Johnson. “Our stories are vitally important. They’re a big part of who we are as Syilx people and the reason we’re learning the language is so we can express ourselves as Syilx people.”

Connecting to the past is important, she explained, but they also want to use their language to connect to the future.

“We’re putting in all this time so we’re able to speak about anything, including healing our communities from the inside through language, empowering ourselves and expressing our individualism,” said Johnson.”We feel like learning our language vitally connects us to the future of ourselves as people.”

The Syilx Language house is a pilot project, Johnson said, proving the success of the teaching model with a results-driven program.

Related: Sylix Language House celebrates third year

And according to Johnson, every fluent speaker they can create could have a huge influence going forward: each fluent speaker could create tens, if not hundreds, of fluent speakers.

“Now we’re fundraising to grow the program,” said Johnson. “We want to start 30 to 60 people by next September. And any help with fundraising is welcome.

“Every $50,000 we can raise is a new fluent speaker by 2024.”

Being one of a small number of people fluent in nsyilxcən has its challenges too.

“I think we all feel that joy of being able to speak our language, that the elders can understand us,” said Johnson, adding that there is also loneliness. “Each one of us, it’s as though we’re entering into the same sense of loneliness that the elders have because they’re the remaining speakers of our critically endangered language.

“That’s why we have to maintain our sense of hope and keep working as hard as we’re working so that all of my current students will have 100 more people to speak with.”


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
Email me or message me on Facebook
Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Just Posted

Day one of Hometown Hockey in West Kelowna

Special guests, music, games, and free pizza! Hometown Hockey countinues on Sunday.

Kids provide their own ideas during play in Kelowna

Ideas Bobert! is part of the Living Things International Arts Festival

Women’s March draws small crowd in Kelowna

The small, but passionate, group marched along Water Street Saturday

Surrey man fined $10,000 by Kelowna’s Provincial Court

The man was convicted for three Wildlife Act offences after shooting a bull moose not in season

UBCO Heat men’s and women’s basketball squads bounce over MacEwan

The women got their first win of the season, while the men keep their playoff hopes alive

VIDEO: Students in MAGA hats mock Native American at Indigenous Peoples March

Diocese in Kentucky says it is investigating the matter, caught on video by onlookers

CONSUMER REPORT: What to buy each month in 2019 to save money

Resolve to buy all of the things you want and need, but pay less money for them

Want to avoid the speculation tax on your vacant home? Rent it out, Horgan says

Premier John Horgan and Sheila Malcolmson say speculation and vacancy tax addresses homelessness

UPDATE: B.C. woman and boy, 6, found safe, RCMP confirm

Roseanne Supernault says both she and her six-year-old nephew are fine and she has contacted police

PHOTOS: Women’s Marches take to the streets across B.C. and beyond

Women and allies marched worldwide protesting violence against women, calling for equality

Anxiety in Alaska as endless aftershocks rattle residents

Seismologists expect the temblors to continue for months, although the frequency has lessened

Women’s March returns across the U.S. amid shutdown and controversy

The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people

Federal Liberals announce former B.C. MLA as new candidate in byelection

Richard Lee will face off against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

No winning ticket in $10 million Lotto Max jackpot

No win in Friday night’s draw means the next Lotto Max draw will be approximately $17 million

Most Read