By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Tucked behind the end of his kitchen table on a small computer stand, former Akisqnuk First Nation chief Alfred Joseph facilitates weekly Ktunaxa language classes on behalf of the Aq’am community near Cranbrook via Zoom.
Every Tuesday between 7 and 9 p.m. MST, Joseph provides language instruction to anyone interested in learning Ktunaxa remotely through virtual lesson plans.
“It started out as an experiment,” said Joseph. “I wanted to learn how to get a Zoom account originally, and was talking to people from Aq’am about getting a language group roughly three years ago, and I wanted to get it back to it to continue working. She used her account, and I thought it would just be an experiment, so now they’ve got me scheduled to go right to Christmas.”
There were up to 25 students enrolled in the weekly language exchange when it began in the latest session, but now about seven or eight students remain.
“Aq’am is coordinating lessons,” he explained. “With the orbit, life is life. Sometimes they get tapped to do other things, so they can come back in two-or-three weeks time, or a month’s time, and I can give them whichever papers to catch them up, so everybody’s got the same foundation.”
In addition, there is a language C.D. that can be mailed out to each student to listen and practice in their cars. But originally, Joseph began working in language revitalization projects nine years ago. “My goal was to have C.D.s to go into all the homes of our community, so they have the language in the house,” he explained. “It’s gotta be an everyday thing.”
He was pleased that some of the participants in Ktunaxa language lessons have begun to query the best way to phrase sentences because it creates positive discourse during the classes. However, the biggest challenge with teaching the language virtually for Joseph is reading body language and facial expressions to ensure nobody is lost.
“I try to keep everybody at a level where they feel comfortable to be able to interact, which is very important because if you lose someone at one spot, especially with Zoom, you can’t know if you’ve lost them, so I’m constantly watching their reactions to see if I’ve lost them,” said Joseph. “When it gets really quiet, I have to figure out what’s going on and get them where they need to be. It’s been lots of fun, so I’ll throw in something where they’ll have to laugh, so I know that they’re still listening.”
He remains optimistic that the language can be preserved by those interested in learning basic vocabulary or phrases.