CONTENT WARNING: This story contains references to residential schools.
How do you ensure a language persists?
Marilyn Harry from the Homalco First Nation is trying to do just that. She is the language coordinator for the First Nation, and is currently working on a five-year revitalization plan for the Ayajuthem language. Ayajuthem is traditionally spoken by the ɬəʔamɛn, k̓ómoks, χʷɛmaɬkʷu, and ƛohos (Tla’amin, K’omoks, Homalco and Klahoose) First Nations. However, as with many Indigenous languages affected by Canada’s residential school program and other methods of forced assimilation, the number of native speakers has dwindled greatly.
“We applied for funding through First People’s c}Cultural Council over a year ago to develop a five year strategic plan on language revitalization for the Homalco community,” Harry said. “The reason I did it basically is so we can really hear from our people of Homalco what they want to see when it comes to language revitalization in the community … Really, it’s a map of what they want to see.”
Harry and her team have presented the community with a draft plan, and are working on a second draft based on feedback they’ve received. From there, the plan will be presented once more before it is fully approved.
“Hopefully we’ll have that done by Christmas time,” Harry said.
Though the process is being headed by the Homalco First Nation, the other three Ayajuthem speaking Nations have been consulted in the process.
“As we’re developing this five year strategic plan, we’re involving them as much as possible because their stakeholders as well,” she said. “We call them our sister Nations because we speak the same language, we’re basically keeping them in the loop of what we’re doing in our community.”
The Ayajuthem language revitalization process has been ongoing for a few years now. Some of the newer developments are the new North Island College Ayajuthem Language course, being offered this October free of charge.
“It’s almost like a dream,” she said. “We’re actually offering that now in October.”
Though that course is full with a waiting list, Harry said she hopes it opens up the opportunity to offer more courses.
Also part of the process was the Ayajuthem Summer Language Camp that was held in August.
As fast as the process has been going, Harry wants to make sure that they take it step by step.
“A lot of our people are residential schools survivors, and it could be a very touchy subject to some of them,” she said. “It can be scary for some people.”
After the second draft of the plan is presented, Harry hopes that it will be finalized by March next year.