For the Sts’ailes First Nation, the revitalization of the Halq’eméylem language is just beginning.
“We’re ready now,” Janice George, health director at Sts’ailes said. “We’re at the point where we need to get this done, and we need to have our people speaking our own language.”
“Family connections, connections to the land, spirituality. We lost a lot, and it’s not really tangible,” she continued. “But it’s real.”
George was sitting in her office inside the Sts’ailes administration building. As health director, her job doesn’t usually involve teaching others Halq’eméylem — that’s normally the job of the education department, which gives students from preschool to Grade 12 daily lessons in the language.
The problem, George and others in the band have found, is that students have no-one to talk to once they leave school.
“When they go home, they don’t have anyone to speak it with, because there’s a gap there,” George said. “The adults don’t know the language, so it’s kind of being taught but … dwindling out for those students.”
To bridge that gap, Sts’ailes has embarked on a new project: Qw’oqwel te Qw’oqwel, or Talk the Talk.
Qw’oquwel te Qw’oqwel is a series of four videos with a Halq’eméylem voice-over that touches on common and traditional activities for members of the First Nation. The videos are the result of funding from the federal government, administered to local First Nations through the First Peoples’ Cultural Council.
Videos on hunting (“Te Sha:wa”), storytelling (“Te Qwulqwel”), cooking (“Kwu:kw”) and canning (“Qwo:ls”) were directed by UFV student Nauness Dool. Siyamiyateliyot Elizabeth Phillips, considered the last fluent speaker of Halq’eméylem, provided the voice-over and translation for the videos.
“We’ve become stagnant in our approach,” George said. “We’re using western models of learning to try and learn our own language.”
“We’ve held adult language classes over the years using that method that’s not effective for us,” she added. “So now we’re realizing we need to change our approach.”
The hope is the videos will inspire more Indigenous people outside the school system to become inspired and engaged with their language, and the culture that comes with it.
“It’s a way of life for us, but it’s like prevention too,” George said. “We find that when our people are more connected to the culture, the language, the spirituality, then their health is better.”
“What we’re trying to do is create awareness and … generate interest for our people to want to learn the language.”
So far the videos have seen some measure of popularity within the community since they were finished in March of this year.
Although they haven’t been used in official curriculum development yet, they were on display during an open house in the community, and residents could sign up for hard copies of the four-video series. The videos are also available for free download online at stsailes.com/talk-the-talk-project.
The plan, George said, is to create more videos with the federal funding. These videos will be included as part of Sts’ailes up-coming language revitalization plan, which will look at how the First Nation can bring Halq’eméylem into the community over the next 10 years.
Although George isn’t sure exactly what those videos will look like, she hopes that they will incorporate more language learners into the process, so “they can be learning as they’re teaching.”
“If we can get our youth interested in language, then that’s a really good step forward,” she said. “Because youth are key to carrying it on for the future generations.”