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Native languages are in peril, report says

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    Native languages are in peril, report says Most will be lost within six years unless young taught: researcher By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist May 1, 2010 6:37
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      Native languages are in peril, report says
      Most will be lost within six years unless young taught: researcher

      By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
      May 1, 2010 6:37 AM

      The 2010 Report on the Status of B.C First Nations Languages was being launched today at the LA'U WELNEW Tribal School Cultural Building in Brentwood Bay . John Elliott, language teacher at the tribal school drums with 12-year-old Julia Bill as part of the presentation at the start of the conferenc
      Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist
      First Nations languages in B.C. are in deep trouble and most will be lost within six years if immediate steps aren't taken to improve language education, says a report released yesterday.

      The grim assessment by the First Peoples' Heritage, Language and Culture Council was presented at a conference at Lauwelnew Tribal School in Brentwood Bay.

      "If we just let it go on as it has been, within five or six years most of the languages in B.C. will have no fluent speakers left," said Hannah Amrhein, researcher with the First Peoples' Council. The Crown corporation was created in 1990 to help First Nations revitalize their languages and arts.

      Over the last 120 years, the impact of colonization and residential schools has meant the number of fluent speakers has dropped by 95 per cent. In many communities, that means only two or three people can hold conversations in the language, Amrhein said.

      Three languages are designated as "sleeping" with no fluent speakers, 22 are nearly extinct and the remainder are severely endangered or endangered.

      B.C. is home to 60 per cent of Canada's indigenous languages, with 32 distinct languages and 59 dialects.

      But only 5.1 per cent of the First Nations population, or 5,609 people, are fluent speakers, and most of those are between 65 and 90 years old, meaning expertise is lost every year.

      The numbers for semi-fluent speakers are more encouraging at 8.2 per cent of the population, of which almost 40 per cent are under the age of 24.

      Another 11 per cent are learning a First Nations language, but the level of education is often insufficient to create new fluent speakers. In most communities, a First Nations language is rarely spoken at home, at work or in the media, the report says.

      "We are at a crisis point," said Lorna Williams, First Peoples' Council chairwoman. "The cultural and linguistic diversity of B.C. is a priceless treasure for all of humanity and this report shows that more must be done to protect it."

      Work to restore languages includes a master apprentice program, where a fluent speaker is paired with an apprentice, new programs in schools and at the University of Victoria and community efforts to document and archive languages.

      Chief Bob Chamberlin of Kwicksutaineuk-ah-kwaw-ah-mish First Nation of Gilford Island said the pro-vince should be stepping in to help with funding.

      At Lauwelnew Tribal School, all students are taught Sencoten, one of the nearly extinct languages.

      It's critical to teach young people as there are only about 15 elderly fluent speakers remaining, language instructor John Elliott said.

      "Sencoten is the voice of the land. The meaning of words connects us to beliefs about how we should live in the world and how we should look after the world."

      Students can now use a Sencoten keyboard on computers at the school, Elliott said.

      > To see the full report, go to www.fphlcc.ca


      © Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

      Chief Wayne Morris, Tsartlip Band spoke at the presentation.
      Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist

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