By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) will be bringing back facilitators, Alfred Joseph and Mara Nelson, (to instruct) the 2023 Ktunaxa Language Course for Educators—Connecting to the Land through Local Language, from January to April.

Through 12 90-minute Zoom-based learning sessions, Joseph and Nelson will teach educators the sounds, words, and some history of the Ktunaxa Language. For CBEEN members the cost is $240 and for non-members, $300.  The first session will be on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. For all other dates and those interested in registering visit cbeen.ca/ktunaxa-language-course/. 

While these sessions may be targeted at educators, anyone is welcome to enrol. Fifty of the 75 spaces have already been filled, so those interested should act fast. The deadline to enrol is Jan. 15.

“This is the second year we will have Alfred Joseph and Mara Nelson to host these sessions. There is a huge interest from educators across the homelands of the Ktunaxa in learning the local language. This is such an important step towards reconciliation, and one that allows the language learners to gain a deeper appreciation for and understanding of local Indigenous culture,” said CBEEN executive director, Duncan Whittick. 

Joseph is a highly respected Ktunaxa Elder and past Chief of the Akisqnuk Nation. A former student at St Eugene’s Residential School and graduate from Olds Agricultural College, Joseph, a passionate the dedicated educator, is an expert in Ktunaxa language. He has taken Mara Nelson under his wing. Nelson is ?aq?smaknik (a Ktunaxa person) with a background in education as a sign language translator and education assistant. Her experience working amongst teachers and students in the classroom is extensive. Past students of Joseph’s Nukin?ka ?aki??ka?is class will be making a guest appearance throughout this 12-week workshop to share their unique interests that are centred in Ktunaxa.

“I am appreciative and excited for this valuable opportunity. I am fully aware that this opportunity not only allows me to share what brings me fulfillment but that I am able to spend more time with Alfred,” said Nelson. ‘Learning from him, listening to his stories and perspective has been some of the most cherished icing on this much loved proverbial kquq?i? ?iki?. His understanding of how one feels not knowing their language, has been indescribable in the way that he has taught us. His continued encouragement that we all spread our webs is a big part of my daily actions. I do not fear mispronunciations because the courage he has installed came along with the ability to laugh at the old mistakes as we learn and grown to make new ones.”

Nelson grew up not being able to speak or understand her beautiful Isolate language. After decades of longing, she took her first lesson in her 40’s which changed her life for the positive, seemingly overnight.

“I connected to myself and family in more meaningful ways as learning our language gave me new strength,” said Nelson. “My mental health and sobriety are stronger when I am immersed in our language. I think of ka titi ? ?a? ka ?a?mi? ? ?a? ka ?a?mi?ukpukam and how they are beside me with each word, bringing our sounds back to our family, I know this is where they want me to be.  As an educator myself, I know the inherent value of learning from a young age, with your peers, which is why I am strongly compelled to help teach the teachers in our communities.”

In 2022, Nelson was part of language learning activities and is currently enjoying spending time with students from Steeples Elementary School. 

“They are sharing their language with their peers where we see first-hand it brings a bit more confidence, strength, and swagger! They share their knowledge and lend their voices to words, songs, and suggestions,” said Nelson. “Teaching and sharing Ktunaxa Language in every classroom in ?amakis Ktunaxa should be the minimum of what we can achieve to ensure that our language Isolate never vanishes from the mouths and lands it was created for. What I love most about it is that there are Ktunaxa students in these classes. It is my true joy! My hope with this upcoming session with Alfred is that we have a base of educators that are willing to go the next step.”

Whittick said CBEEN understands that Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, language, and culture are foundational to environmental education. CBEEN looks forward to future partnerships more with Indigenous communities and educators to develop more resources and opportunities Indigenous language and culture learning. Whittick adds non-indigenous educators need to undertake meaningful steps like local language learning to engage appropriately and authentically in Indigenous knowledge and perspectives and build respectful and reciprocal relationships.

It is Nelson’s hope that the dynamics of the sacred Ktunaxa language are not only be used an education model but far beyond that.