By Julia Magsombol 

Local Journalism Initiative 

[email protected]

Mara Nelson, Traditional Knowledge and Language Support from Ktunaxa Nation, has entered a unique partnership with the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) to teach the Ktunaxa language. 

“We’re not going to let anything happen to our language. This is something that lives inside of us,” Nelson said. “It’s necessary that we get our language out there, that we get the teachings that we have.” 

In 2021, along with Nelson, Alfred Joseph, a respected Elder from Ktunaxa Nation who is fluent in the language, wanted to fill the gaps in the Ktunaxa language. So, they decided to facilitate and create a program in partnership with CBEEN, a platform that gives them the ability to reach a bigger group of students.

Nelson said she spent time with Joseph and studied the library resources that he had learned for the last 40 years. 

“I was able to look through all that content and take what I needed to make a 12-week program that would teach the basics of sounds and simple understandings of our language,” Nelson added. 

Both have been hard at work teaching the language for two years. Nelson is the content creator and co-facilitator along with Joseph. 

“As I’m a new learner of our language, I still don’t have that vocabulary and the extensive background that he does. He’s there to assist me every session,” 

The next online session will start in September and will end in December. In 2024, the teachers will facilitate the second level of the course and hope to offer that in person.

“He teaches us our stories. And as people that have been lost to our culture and language, it just brings us home in a deeper and more impactful way,” Nelson said. 

Nelson has been a student of Joseph’s, Niukin’ka ?ak’cika?is since October of 2020. 

“It was just something that created a further push to encourage more language growth. Joseph was remarkable. If you ever get the opportunity to spend time with him, you’ll feel his humble joy in everything around us.” 

Nelson noted that Ktunaxa is an isolated language, meaning “there’s no other language like [that] in the world.” 

Ideally, she hopes these language courses are no longer needed in the future.

“I hope that there are enough language speakers that these aren’t necessarily things that we have to be fulfilling.”

Nelson said they will be accepting 70 people in the 12-week course this year. For more information, visit:

She concluded by expressing her gratitude to CBEEN and Joseph. “They’ve allowed me to flourish and grow not only in my language but in my sense of self.”