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Where can I learn a First Nations language?

National Indigenous Languages Day champions the preservation and revitalization of First Nations languages, here’s how you can engage
March 31 is National Indigenous Languages Day. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

March 31 marks National Indigenous Languages Day, an opportunity for First Nations language to be celebrated and championed.

For the large portion of Indigenous communities who have been unable to learn or speak their mother language following the implementation of the residential schooling system, the resources available now give them, their children and grandchildren the opportunity to reconnect with their own culture.

For non-Indigenous people hoping to contribute to the revitalization of almost-lost languages, education opportunities are rife there too – whether it be the desire to study Indigenous languages as a second language or simply get a basic understanding of regularly used terms and phrases.

The two First Nations here on the North Shore, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), are each ramping up education efforts for their own communities in terms of language recovery, but are also going to lengths to ensure those opportunities are available for the general public, too.

Signs bearing Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh language and phrases are becoming more commonplace around the city, and resources in education facilities, libraries, community centres and online are flourishing.

To find what resources are available near you, see below.

The Nations

Check in with the community centres or governments of the Indigenous Nation’s themselves – while some may not be explicitly offering lessons or classes, there is never any harm in asking.

Locally, the Squamish Nation provides courses, but only to Squamish children and adults. The general public, however, can access some resource tools online. For example, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre has an audio tour of the Sea to Sky place names and significant spots available online.

Despite having no living fluent speakers, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is moving to bolster the use of its Hunq’eme’nem language with a program crafted from the remaining records, documentation, and linguistic resources. The Nation has classes for staff and community members, alongside language immersion camps.

University programs

A new wave of courses and programs have been brought into higher education facilities for those who are particularly serious in getting to grips with Indigenous language.

UBC offers courses in its First Nations and Endangered Languages program at all levels, from introductory to advanced. Similarly, Simon Fraser University is running an Indigenous Languages Program.

“If a person was interested in learning a native language, that would be an act of reconciliation,” said Eldon Yellowhorn, Simon Fraser’s professor of Indigenous Studies,

Yellowhorn, a member of the Piikani Nation and a native speaker of the Blackfoot language, is spearheading a project through the university that will see his own Eastern Naton’s language revitalised. Blackfoot Revitalisation is a website containing learning materials and quizzes, and a text-to-speech chatbot – ensuring users can have their own personal tutor anytime, anywhere.

“We’ve always had this assumption that Indigenous people were the only ones who would nurture Indigenous languages, but I think we ought to start recruiting from the larger public,” he said.

“For example in Blackfoot country, where it straddles Alberta and Northern Montana, there are millions of people who live there now. Even if just 1 per cent of the general public took an interest in learning the language, we’d have thousands of speakers, just like that.”

Elsewhere, Capilano University offers certificate programs in the Sechelt (shíshálh) Nation language at its Sunshine Coast campus, and a certificate in the Lil’wat language, taught out of the Ts’zil Learning Centre in Mount Currie. Both aim to develop students’ understanding of the language, alongside the history and culture of the Nations.

First People’s Map

Launched in 2021, the First People’s Map is an interactive map that has collated information from First Nations communities across British Columbia. It encourages users to engage on a deeper level by offering various things to learn, from greetings in First Nations languages to where to find nearby Indigenous public art i­nstallations and cultural landmarks.

For all language regions across B.C. users can access guides on how to pronounce the name of the language and a greeting, alongside details on the number of people who speak or are learning the language.

Enlightening, engaging and easy to navigate, the online resource makes for a less intimidating option than a course for those hoping to dip their toe into learning the local languages.

First Voices

First Voices is a website created by B.C.’s First Peoples’ Cultural Council, dedicated to the revitalization of Indigenous language. With more than 100 Indigenous languages from across the world on offer, users can learn anything from the language of local First Nation’s to the Te Reo Maori language of New Zealand.

Of the local languages, Squamish Nation is available – but only to members.


YouTube has a plethora of quick and easy video guides designed to assist with pronunciation, gestures, and general cultural information.

Squamish Nation’s council chairperson Khelsilem hosts his own channel Skwomesh Language Academy and regularly appears on Squamish Language, a channel which drops step-by-step videos on how to pronounce certain phrases and place names. Here you can learn everything from asking someone’s name in Squamish, to expressing your own feelings, and even the Squamish rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has its own offering from its language team, TWN Language, with a simple selection of videos that break down both the language and mannerisms of the Burrard Inlet community.

Local Libraries

Alongside the books and learning resources available, the North Vancouver city, district and West Vancouver libraries often host events designed to engage the general public with local First Nations language and culture.

The West Vancouver library has a particular focus on making the languages accessible to the younger generation. Its Kids Traditional Indigenous Stories collection focuses on traditional stories from Indigenous people across the country, but with a particular attention given to the Pacific Northwest.

The collection is available to be perused by primary and elementary school students alongside parents and teachers looking for authentic materials.

Know of any language learning resources that have been left off this list? Let us know at

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.