First Nations languages are endangered in British Columbia, which according to the 2010 Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages boasts 60 percent of the First Nations languages in all of Canada. There are 32 distinct languages and only 5.1 percent of the population can speak them fluently.
The report notes that language revitalization is important because it is “the way a culture is transmitted—it represents the identity of a people and holds cultural, historical, scientific and ecological knowledge. When a language is lost, we all lose out on the knowledge held within it and the unique way its speakers view the world.”
So every other year First Nations Language Champions are honored at the First Nations Languages Conference for their contributions to those endangered languages.
2011 Champions are:
- Verna Williams (Ts’aa Gabin) – Nisga’a language, Nisga’a Nation, Gitlaxt’aamiks
- Gracie John – Dakelh language (Southern Dialect), Saik’uz First Nation, Vanderhoof
- Clara Camille – Secwepemctsin language, Canoe Creek Band
- Stephen Brown – X?aad Kil language, Old Massett Band, Haida Gwaii
- Cecilia DeRose – Secwepemctsin language, Esketemc First Nation
- Kathy Robinson (?u?aa?uk?is) – c?išaa?at? and diitiid?aatx? languages, Tseshaht First Nation
- Nuwaqawa Evelyn Windsor- Hailhzaqvla language, Heiltsuk Nation, Bella Bella
- The late Earl Claxton Sr. (YEL?Á??E) – SEN?O?EN language, Tsawout First Nation, Saanich
“We are so proud of our language champions,” Tracey Herbert, executive director at the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council, said in a press release. “They are a truly inspiring group of people who have dedicated their lives to keeping their languages alive for the next generation of speakers. We must continue to support their work.”
“Their examples inspire all of us who are working to revitalize our First Nations languages and I am glad to have the opportunity to recognize and honour their hard work and dedication to their people,” Tyrone McNeil, First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) president, said in the release.
The two groups—FNESC and First People’s Heritage—co-hosted the bi-annual event July 10.