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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Updated: Revelstoke RCMP searching Columbia River for reported body

Three boats and a helicopter searched the river and the shoreline in the area

Revelstoke Save-On-Foods compaign raised almost $2,000 for food bank

The grocery chain raised $300,000 for food banks across western Canada

Video: Revelstoke’s City Hall wrapped in plastic

Revelstoke’s City Hall is wrapped in plastic for the time being. The… Continue reading

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

Missing woman last seen in Lumby

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP seek public’s help in locating 32-year-old woman

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Interior Health identifies more locations with COVID-19 exposure in Kelowna

Anyone who participated in events in the Kelowna downtown and waterfront area between June 25 and July 6 should monitor closely for symptoms

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Washington’s NFL team drops ‘Redskins’ name after 87 years

The franchise was given the name back in 1933, when it was still in Boston

Okanagan sisters-in-law sleep out successful

Kiley Routley and Heidi Routley raise nearly $2,400 and awareness for youth homelessness

Most Read