Though most of the discussion over last week’s B.C. budget was focused on mansions and taxes, there was one line item we were pleased to see: $50 million for revitalization of Indigenous languages.
Thanks to residential schools, our government nearly snuffed out the Squamish language spoken for thousands of years on the lands we occupy today. At its nadir, there were just seven fluent speakers remaining.
We’ve documented some of the Squamish-led efforts to revitalize the language, including the establishment of a Squamish language immersion program taught at Simon Fraser University by local activist-educator Khelsilem.
Supporting Aboriginal language was a key theme in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
Prince George-Mackenzie Liberal MLA Mike Morris, a former RCMP member, rose in the Legislature this week to say the money would be better spent on policing to combat “alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuse” in First Nations communities. We find this totally tone-deaf and inappropriate.
Of course, governments can and should do more to address those problems but more importantly, we and a great many others would argue that it is because of the brutal theft of Indigenous people’s cultures that these problems persist. A language is not just a collection of nouns, verbs and grammatical rules. It is an entire way of seeing and interacting with the world. There are concepts, emotions and subtleties that do not survive translation. And we believe a language is a pillar of identity and source of root strength that can anchor a people. This $50 million is a small step towards giving back what’s been stolen.
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