By Melanie Stirling
Language acts as the foundation of a culture. It enables the sharing of knowledge, traditions, memories, and stories between generations. Without language, a culture crumbles.
A quote from Khaled Hosseini about the importance of language in culture. Photo: Quotefancy.
Today there are 3000 languages that are considered to be critically endangered and on the verge of extinction. All of British Columbia’s First Nations languages are facing this threat. This includes two of the Coast Salish languages, Halkomelem and Squamish.
The Halkomelem language is the language of over 40 First Nations in British Columbia. Including Sto:lo, Cowichan, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Halkomelem is classified into 3 main dialects: Halq̓eméylem, hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, and Hul̓q̓umín̓um̓. Each dialect pertains to certain areas within British Columbia.
Map depicting the areas where each of the Halkomelem dialects are spoken. Photo: SFU.
Halq̓eméylem is spoken by communities upriver from Vancouver. hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ is spoken by communities in the Fraser Delta and Lower Mainland. Hul̓q̓umín̓um̓ is spoken by communities on southeast Vancouver Island. With there being only approximately 200 fluent speakers of Halkomelem left, it is classified as a severely endangered language.
The Squamish language (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw) is the official language of the Squamish Nation and has close ties to the Halkomelem language. It was historically an oral language without a formal writing system, however in 1990 the most recent system was adopted as the official writing system by the Squamish Nation. It is spoken along the southern coast of British Columbia, including: Squamish, West Vancouver, and North Vancouver. It is estimated that there are only 10 fluent speakers left, therefore classifying this language as critically endangered. 450 active language speakers are working hard to keep the Squamish language alive.
Wordmark and logo lockup of Squamish Nation. Photo: Squamish Nation, LinkedIn.
Schools, institutions, and organizations are partnering with different First Nations of British Columbia to help preserve these Coast Salish languages through the use of various educational resources. If you are looking for university or college courses to enroll in, try seeing if they offer any Coast Salish language courses! The Musqueam Nation and the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program at the University of British Columbia, co-developed Musqueam language courses that offer introductory and intermediate classes on the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ dialect of Halkomelem. Capilano University offers courses on the Squamish language. There are also organizations, such as FirstVoices, that are working hard to share and promote language, oral culture, and linguistic history on accessible online spaces.
UBC street signs incorporating hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ translations. Photo: UBC.
Fraser Riverkeeper is committed to building relationships and interconnectedness with Indigenous communities through consultation and partnership. We are currently working with and reaching out to various First Nations institutions, organizations, and schools, seeking advice, support, and knowledge to be shared across our platforms to help engage others with Traditional Knowledge.
Make sure you’re following us on our social media platforms as we will be sharing different Halkomelem and Squamish words every Thursday with our #SpreadTheWord series so you too can learn more about these languages to help ensure their existence and protect First Nations culture.
Fraser Riverkeeper Instagram posts about Halkomelem and Squamish languages. Photo: fraserrivkeeper, Instagram.
We look forward to learning and celebrating First Nations languages together!