By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

New 12-week session began on March 1 

Indigenous languages such as Ktunaxa were some of the parts of Indigenous Peoples’ culture stripped away during the time of residential schools. Due to the popularity of the winter Ktunaxa language course, in partnership with Columbia Basin Environmental Educational Network (CBEEN), with Ktunaxa facilitators, Elder Alfred Joseph and Mara Nelson, a second one has been added. The classes are underway and run virtually on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. mountain standard time (MST).

“There is no other place or time that I need to be in than right now,” said Mara Nelson, Ktunaxa Language educator and course developer. “This momentum needs to keep going. Beginning in 2024, we will be offering a second, higher level of learning for those that have completed the first session.”

CBEEN executive director, Duncan Whittick, said the first course held in 2022 had 50 participants; this past winter course had 80. Due to its rising popularity, an additional 60 spots were added to this year’s second Ktunaxa language course. Throughout these 12 weeks participants learn the sounds, words, and some history of the Ktunaxa Language. 

“Learning local language is such an important step towards a deeper understanding of local Indigenous knowledge and perspectives,” said Whittick. “It also is a way of showing respect for local Indigenous people and communities. It has been wonderful to have both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants learning language through this course together.”

Ktunaxa Elder and Columbia House resident, George Stevens, who has been working diligently to bring back the language, is one of Joseph’s students, and will be co-teaching this term’s fifth class on March 29. Stevens, a survivor of St. Eugene’s residential school said he not only wants to learn more about what’s been taken by residential schools, but through his own learning of the sacred Ktunaxa language, he wants to be a part of passing it down to the next generation of Ktunaxa Peoples.

Stevens said, “It is a step towards truth and reconciliation. It makes me feel that we are finally being recognized as an independent Nation, because we are not only in Canada but also in Montana, Idaho, and Washington, in the Northwestern United States.”

“It is very important to me to mentor and demonstrate to my children and grandchildren a pride in our language and culture and for them to know that I am working to bring it back,” he continued. It is my hope for the teachers and participants to understand and practice the culture and language itself in all parts of their lives so that the language is right in their minds- that they can speak it. So that they can speak with the children in Ktunaxa at all times. This is the only way that we can learn so that we think and speak in Ktunaxa – that we take back what was taken from us. It is important that everyone is involved in bringing back the language, everyone living in Ktunaxa ‘amakis.”