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

Man charged in Salmon Arm 7-Eleven fire granted bail

Accused facing arson charges released with 23 conditions including a 7 p.m. curfew

Signs commemorating Japanese interment in the Shuswap planned

Information on each of the five internment camps in the area will be provided at camp locations

Outdoor ice rink opens in the North Shuswap

Those looking to skate in the fresh air can do so at Farrell’s Field in Celista

Man admits responsibility for 2016 death of Shuswap motorcyclist

Brian Watson, 60, died after being struck while riding his motorcycle on Squilax-Anglemont Road

Super blood wolf moon fills Okanagan skies, to photographers’ delight

Photographers had a rare chance Sunday to capture a rare lunar eclipse

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

China demands US drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

China detained two Canadians on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng

9 brains, 3 hearts: Some wild facts about octopuses

Things to know about the giant Pacific octopus, which is naturally found in the waters of the U.S. West coast, the Aleutian Islands and Japan

Hollywood announces 2019 Oscar nominations

Netflix has scored its first best picture nomination, something the streaming giant has dearly sought

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

‘Blue Monday’ isn’t real, but depression can be

CMHA encourages people to prioritize their mental health

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

Parole granted for drunk driver who killed B.C. RCMP officer

Kenneth Jacob Fenton will be able to attend alcohol abuse treatment, nearly three years after crash that killed Const. Sarah Beckett

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

Most Read