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B.C. investment in Indigenous language revitalization puts reconciliation into action

Press Release

March 16, 2018

VICTORIA – First Peoples’ Cultural Council will work in partnership with First Nations communities to develop and implement revitalization plans for each of the living Indigenous languages in B.C., to reverse the disruption to Indigenous languages from Canada’s history of colonization and residential schools.

“Language is critical for connecting Indigenous peoples to their culture, spirituality, identity and land,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “For too long, Indigenous language has been under threat. The time has come for us to support First Nations in exercising their human right to speak and pass on their language and culture.”

In Budget 2018, B.C. allocated a $50-million grant to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) to help revitalize Indigenous languages in British Columbia, and address the current language crisis. Fewer than 6,000 people speak one of the 34 Indigenous languages in B.C.

“We are taking action now to support Indigenous communities’ work to preserve and revitalize endangered languages – languages that are cornerstones of cultural and social identities across our province,” said Carole James, Minister of Finance. “By investing in Indigenous languages, we invest in the future of Indigenous communities. I am proud our government is making this historic commitment.”

As a result of the funding, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council will expand community immersion programs that support the development of fluent speakers of Indigenous languages. These include the Mentor-Apprentice program, which pairs fluent speakers with apprentices for one-on-one immersion training, and the Pre-school Language Nest program, which supports the creation of language and culture immersion environments for children and their parents. The pilot Silent Speakers program will become permanent. Silent Speakers helps those who understand, but do not speak their language, overcome challenges with using it in their communities.

“We sincerely thank the B.C. government for its strong leadership and new investment in the revitalization of Indigenous languages across B.C., and for recognizing the importance of Indigenous languages to the well-being of Indigenous peoples,” said Cynthia Callison, FPCC board chair. “This funding is essential to restore and continue the unique diversity of Indigenous languages in B.C. It is a concrete example of implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action toward reconciliation.”

The language revitalization plans will be developed with Indigenous communities and tailored to their individual needs. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council will also provide funding to increase the number of words and phrases uploaded to the FirstVoices online oral dictionary, and expand the online resources available for language learners and speakers.

“Urgent action is needed as many Indigenous languages are in danger of becoming extinct,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. “One of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s key priorities is revitalizing language. That’s what this work is about — not just giving lip service to reconciliation, but taking action.”

FPCC will work in collaboration with communities and partners to support additional priority actions to revitalize languages. These include creating new speakers and developing new language resources that will support communities to build skills and capacity for language mobilization.

“The First Nations communities we have been working with are seeing clear and measurable results, creating fluent language speakers as new knowledge keepers and documenting languages for future generations,” said Tracey Herbert, CEO of the FPCC. “This new funding will help us to build on our strong track record of success, and expand our work to all Indigenous communities in B.C., to help their mother-tongue languages flourish again.”

Quick Facts:

  • The First Peoples’ Cultural Council is a First Nations-run Crown corporation with a mandate to support the revitalization of Indigenous languages, arts, culture and heritage in B.C.
  • British Columbia has the greatest diversity of Indigenous languages in Canada. The 34 unique Indigenous languages, and over 90 dialects, represent 60% of all Indigenous languages in the country.
  • Investing in languages aligns with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognize that knowing and being able to speak one’s language is a human right.

Learn More:

First Peoples’ Cultural Council: www.fpcc.ca

FirstVoices: www.firstvoices.com/en

Map of Indigenous languages in B.C.: ow.ly/rOub30iYgmq

B.C. Budget 2018: bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2018

A backgrounder follows.

Contacts:

Sarah Plank
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation
250 208-9621

Nancy McHarg
First Peoples’ Cultural Council
604 760-4366


BACKGROUNDER

First Peoples’ Cultural Council

The First Peoples’ Cultural Council is a unique organization in Canada. As a First Nations-run Crown corporation with a mandate to support the revitalization of Indigenous languages, arts, culture and heritage in British Columbia, First Peoples’ Cultural Council provides funding and resources to communities, monitors the status of Indigenous languages and develops policy recommendations for First Nations and government.

New funding

The B.C. government has committed a significant investment of $50 million to support Indigenous language. This funding is the result of many years of advocacy, educating policy makers, and developing investment models by First Peoples’ Cultural Council and community partners.

Why Indigenous language revitalization matters

Restoring connections to Indigenous language and culture builds resilience and supports healthy individuals and communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action report outlines the need to protect and invest in the restoration of Indigenous languages as a concrete step toward reconciliation. Knowing and being able to speak one’s language is recognized as a human right for Indigenous peoples. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples identifies that Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. First Peoples’ Cultural Council has been working with the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government to advance the recognition and protection of Indigenous language rights in federal law.

How the funding will be used

The new funding will be used for language preservation and revitalization activities, including community grants, community language planning, and documentation and training aimed at rebuilding community-based language supports. The funding will also be used to expand language immersion programs and learning resources to support Indigenous languages in communities throughout the province.

The First Peoples’ Cultural Council has served First Nations in B.C. for 28 years. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council has mapped and documented Indigenous languages in B.C.; built tools and programs in community and online that support language learning; created partnerships with communities throughout the province; and worked with leaders in Indigenous languages around the globe to share their pioneering and proven approaches to language reclamation, documentation and revitalization.

Their efforts have been recognized as establishing British Columbia and Canada as leaders in Indigenous language revitalization. Limited resources have meant that the First Peoples’ Cultural Council were able to touch only a handful (10% or less) of the Indigenous languages in the province. With this new provincial funding, it will work with the Indigenous language groups and communities that belong to the same cultural groups and speak the same language throughout the province. The program will be flexible in order to respond to the needs of the community. First Peoples’ Cultural Council works collaboratively with communities, supporting leading language work led by Elders and other knowledge keepers of the land.

Language programs supported in communities include:

  • The Mentor-Apprentice program pairs a fluent language speaker (mentor) with a language learner (apprentice) to transfer language knowledge and increase fluency.
  • FirstVoices is the internationally recognized online Indigenous language archiving and teaching resource that allows Indigenous communities to document their language for future generations. FirstVoices provides state-of-the-art technologies, training and technical support to community language champions. Teams of fluent Elders and technically savvy youth upload dictionaries, alphabets, songs, stories, words and phrases, as well as audio and video to their community archives. FirstVoices keyboards includes apps for Apple and Android mobile devices, and more.
  • The Silent Speaker program is for people who understand, but do not speak, their First Nations language. The course is based on a successful program that was developed in Norway and Sweden for, and by, Indigenous Sami people. The model uses cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to support silent speakers in overcoming barriers to using their Indigenous language in their communities.
  • The Pre-School Language Nest program creates language and cultural immersion environments for pre-school children and their parents. In addition to creating an immersion environment with staff, volunteers and Elders, Language Nests allow young parents to learn the language and bring it back into their homes and daily lives, which is necessary for revitalizing a language.
  • First Peoples’ Cultural Council partners with Google.org on the Endangered Languages project, whose governance First Peoples’ Cultural Council chairs.

To learn about the First Peoples’ Cultural Council’s language documentation website, visit: www.firstvoices.com

To find out more about Indigenous languages legislation in Canada, visit: www.fpcc.ca/language/Legislation/

To see current calls for language funding, visit:  www.fpcc.ca/Grants/Language/

Contact:

Nancy McHarg
First Peoples’ Cultural Council
604 760-4366

Connect with the Province of B.C. at: news.gov.bc.ca/connect

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