January 7, 2018 – A 15-year-old high school student in British Columbia is turning to technology to help address a decades-old problem — how to revive an Indigenous language nearly lost to the residential school system.
Tessa Erickson of the Nak'azdli Whut'en First Nation is creating an app and organizing a summer camp to help get younger people in her central B.C. community speaking the Nak'azdli dialect of the Dakelh language.
“To me, it's a bit of a symbol,” she said. “The language is really important to me, personally, because it's a way to connect with my community and really bridge the gap between the generations.”
Members of her nation were fluent in the dialect about three generations ago, before they were sent to residential schools, Erickson said.
The Grade 10 student said she's been told generations since then were afraid to teach the language to their children.
“They didn't want the same experiences they went through to happen to their children if they passed on this language that was kind of looked down upon,” Erickson said.
Languages don't die naturally but are actively snuffed out, usually by colonial forces, said Mark Turin, chair of the First Nations and endangered languages program at the University of British Columbia.
Bringing them back is an explicitly activist and political act, and one that is key to reconciliation, he said.
“Languages are about a lot more than words and grammar,” Turin said.
“A huge amount of local understanding, of culture, ecology, relationships with ancestors, with the past and with the land is all encoded in language.”
Right now there's an “exciting energy” across Canada among people doing the work, he added.