By: Julia Magsombol

Local Initiative Reporter 

[email protected]

March 31 marked the 2024 Indigenous Language Day — an opportunity to honour many Indigenous languages in Canada, including the Ktunaxa language, Secwepemctsín, Michif, and others. 

In 1989, the Assembly of First Nations founded National Indigenous Language Day — a day to raise awareness of Indigenous languages across Canada. And most importantly, to build support for language preservation. 

Unfortunately, many Indigenous languages are becoming extinct in Canada due to the Indian Act and Indian residential schools. 

Thankfully, some of the existing elders continue teaching and sharing their language. 

The Columbia Valley is one of the places in BC that has many Indigenous language classes on offer.

Ktunaxa language

The Ktunaxa language is known as a culturally isolated language. It is different and unique on its own. The language is unrelated to any other in the world and is critically endangered, but many people are willing to teach and learn the language, which keeps it alive. 

Mara Nelson, a traditional knowledge and language support worker from the Ktunaxa Nation, and Alfred Joseph, a respected Elder, have taught the Ktunaxa courses for years. 

“I’m very excited. It’s just growing and evolving, and there’s so much more interest and resources, and as far as a language learner goes, this is a beautiful time to be Ktunaxa, this is a beautiful time to learn Ktunaxa,” Nelson said. 

The Ktunaxa language program finished successfully last year and will continue with a new one this year. Nelson explained that it will be similar to last year but at a higher level. It will be about understanding how the sentence structure works, the endings of words, inertia, and others. 

“There’s so much forward movement, and everything that we do, we’re centering it on our language,”  Nelson pointed out. “I’m a mother. I am an educator. I’ve worked in really incredible places. I’ve had a lot of beautiful things happen in my life. But learning my language has truly changed the foundation of who I am. And it will forever propel me in new places that I never imagined,” she added.

For more information about the recent course, read: https://www.columbiavalleypioneer.com/ktunaxa-language-course-very-successful/

Secwepemctsín

The Shuswap Band speaks the Secwepemctsín. It is an interior Salish language used by the large Salishan language family. Secwepemctsín is an oral language, meaning it does not have a writing system. 

The language itself consists of 43 consonants and five vowels. As it is very unique, many of the sounds of this language are not found in the English language. The language meaning and pronunciation vary throughout Secwepemcúlecw as there are three dialects. 

“Many Indigenous people don’t like to use the term extinct. Extinct means that is it no longer, and because there are still very few who speak the languages and many who are learning it,” said Tisha Tardif, the language coordinator of Shuswap Band.

Its language proficiency course has just started in the valley. 

Tardif explained that the Shuswap Band (Kenpésq?t) has two fluent speakers, two proficient speakers, and seven ‘silent speakers.’ 

Recently, the Shuswap Band was part of a Secwepemctsín language proficiency program called the Accelerated Language Program (ALP). Tardif said there were nine participants who will receive their Secwepemctsín language proficiency diploma. 

“Learning our language helps preserve our culture and gives us our identity as Secwépemc,” Tardif said.

If you are interested in the Shuswap Band’s language course, reach out to Tardif at 

[email protected]

Michif 

The Michif language, spoken by Métis people, is also unique. The language is a combination of French nouns and Cree verbs. It is known that the highest numbers of Michif speakers can be found in the prairies. 

Many Métis people also speak Cree, which is more widely spoken than Michif. To preserve and protect the Michif language, many Métis people are involved in several Michif lessons. 

Its origins are in the Red River Valley area in Manitoba, and this language is now applicable across many provinces in Canada, including BC. 

The Michif introductory language course will begin on April 8. Michif speaker Marie Schoenthal and Amy Cross will teach the course. There will be six classes ending in May. The participants will learn basic conversational skills, learn to say prayers in Michif, and introduce themselves in the language. 

For more information about the course, visit, 

Michif Language Introductory Course: Celebrating Métis Culture!

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