Canim Indian Band former chief Michael Archie has been advocating for all nations to learn about the Shuswap culture and language in the Columbia Valley.
Archie, who is currently serving the Shuswap Indian Band in Invermere as the language and cultural advisor in Invermere, is fluent in the traditional Secwepemc language.
While Archie learned the language from his grandmother as a child, then later formalized his proficiency in Secwepemc during an undergraduate degree at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., he believes the language is more easily accessible for Second Language Learners than some might believe.
“A lot of it is online through the First People’s language app,” said Archie. “To a certain extent, it can help.”
However, there are some challenges in using the application to learn Secwepemc because the technology being featured on it is still being developed and the traditional First Nations language is still evolving.
He added that there are three levels of Secwepemc to consider ranging from “old Shuswap” to “medium” and the “modern day language” as well as differing dialects from each region.
“I always say, ‘don’t worry about eastern, western, northern or southern dialects,’” he explained. “Just learn the language.”
In the past, some children learned Secwepemc from listening to their family members speak it and experiencing the language in relation to their natural surroundings with anecdotal stories that pass down the historical values of the culture each generation that’s involved with it, but today, the traditional languages aren’t spoken at home as much.
Archie indicated that sometimes First Nations languages are taught to children as part of the school’s curriculum at preschool or at elementary and secondary school. However, language learning becomes complex at a generational level when the students are exposed to the language and culture at school instead of at home when their parents may not know the language at all.
“Sometimes the children’s parents don’t speak the language,” explained Archie. “People are so busy trying to make a living that they forget to learn the language or they have to take time off work to learn the language.”
But Archie believes that listening and learning the language can help steer young First Nations children toward a positive life.
He concluded that learning songs and cultural ceremonies are of high importance and indicates that sometimes the most important lesson in life is to “let go, and let things happen the way they were meant to.”