Coded in the grammar and sentence structure of our Indigenous languages is our unique world views – our ways of understanding our relationships to one another, our immediate environment, the natural and supernatural worlds, our spirituality, our oral histories, and our laws. Our ability to express ourselves to our fullest capacity can often only be captured with very specific words. Language is one cultural unifier among people, it creates a shared social network within a particular language group, within a particular geography.
In Canada – there are approximately 60 distinct Indigenous languages, from 10 different language families. In BC, we’re very linguistically diverse within a relatively small geography. A fear for many First Nations is the idea of losing the language, or have it go extinct with the absence of new, fluent language speakers. This loss of knowledge transmission has been a direct result of processes of assimilation in the Canadian state, most prominently through the residential school system which taught English and French as the dominant forms of communication, one that was valued over Indigenous languages in the public sphere.
Today I’m joined by Khelsilem, who is a language rights activist – among many other things.