School District No. 72 is combining new technology with the wisdom of Elders as a means to preserve First Nations languages.
At the June 19 board meeting, some of those involved with the Community Language Project spoke about their latest activities of the project, which matches Elders with teachers to preserve Kwakwala/Likwala language.
The project is a collaboration between the school district’s Indigenous education program with the local First Nations communities, the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre and the First Peoples Cultural Council.
Greg Johnson, district principal of Indigenous education, introduced mentees Brody Naknakim and Dana Roberts and mentor Emily Aitken, and outlined the importance of the project in promoting the success of First Nations students.
“The research shows that the more that Indigenous students are connected to culture, language, heritage and history, the more successful they are,” he said.
Roberts talked about response from the young students.
“I know our kids are stronger when we have language,” she said. “They’re sponges, they just learn fast.”
The project starts with the Elders teaching the teachers. For the mentoring program, she said there were five of them currently learning the language but the hope was to double the number of speakers that can pass on the language.
The mentors and mentees are capturing the langauge on videos, posted on a YouTube channel called Easy Lessons in Liq’wala /Kwak’wala. These cover stories and legends, grammar, verbs and vocabulary. Naknakim said they have identified distinct language sounds and showed school trustees the chart they use.
“In our language there are 48 sounds that are distinct,” he said.
So far, they have put together more than 50 videos that show daily conversation in the traditional language, sometimes with puppets performing the scenes. Other videos, such as the one Naknakim played for trustees and district staff, depict legend such as a local flood story in which a chief tries to warn the people of an impeding danger.
Roberts also said the adults are also appreciating learning the culture, adding they have had a positive response from the Elders working with them.
“When the Elders are pleased, we’re pleased,” she said.
Naknakim also credited the role the Elders have played in teaching them to then teach the young students, and he emphasized the need to document the language immediately because the Elders are getting older.
“We’re assisting them. It’s really their knowledge,” he said.
Aitken, who provides one of the voices for the programs, said their work with preschoolers starts with the alphabet and moves on to teaching through stories and legends.
“The kids really seem to like it,” she said.
Video is only form kind of technology they plan to use. She and June Johnson, the current Elder-in-Residence at North Island College, travelled to South Korea where teachers use an app to teach English as a second language. Their mission was to learn how to apply their software application to the Kwakwala/Likwala language program. Aitken has been translating the vocabulary and composing sentences as a first phase. The next step involves recording.
Following the presentation, board members expressed their support for the project.
“That was very, very interesting and really wonderful to hear about the collaboration you have going with the community,” said board chair Susan Wilson. “This sounds like a perfect storm, and you’re right in the middle of it in a positive way.”