March 31, 2021 - Since 1993, Indigenous peoples in Canada have celebrated March 31st to acknowledge and honour the strength and resilience of language and culture. National Indigenous Languages Day is a day to honour language, its connection to our past, present, and future, and the continuing significance it has on all matters of the community, government, and relationship with the land. While we take this day to reflect on these considerations, each day there are many across Canada who continue to strive to work towards supporting the legacy of language, and actively promote awareness and education for its survival.

Across Canada there are more than 70 indigenous languages, with many experiencing an increase in speakers as identified in the 2016 census as a 2.6% increase. In British Columbia there are five notable language families, with nsyilxcen spoken in the Okanagan context. While we acknowledge these larger language families, it is equally important to recognize the unique language experience specific to each community and understand their complex differences.

Language remains a focal point of Westbank First Nation, as identified in the strategic priorities of Council. WFN has continued to support the efforts of language learning through various internal and external means. This action is reflected through efforts including:

  1. The hosting of language classes by WFN, and by Sensisyusten House of Learning to support language learning and cultural revitalization;
  2. Supporting community language conference and gathering opportunities hosted through the Okanagan Nation Alliance;
  3. Offering support to the En’owkin Centre which provides language learning experiences ranging from certificate and diploma programs, to culminating in the Bachelor of Nsyilxcen Language Fluency Program supported through the University of British Columbia, Okanagan as announced by Dr. Jeanette Armstrong and the Province of British Columbia;
  4. Supporting the Language Nest which is run by a community society group; and
  5. Supporting the Language House which has experienced WFN community graduate.

In 2020 WFN hired a Language Coordinator, Rachel Marchand, who has continued to build upon these efforts, and will be supporting enhanced learning opportunities for the community. WFN recognizes the importance that all learners feel welcome and be provided to opportunity to learn our language equally regardless of age, ability, or location.

While there are many initiatives, people, and bodies that we celebrate today, it is important to recognize the significant challenges associated with Indigenous languages in Canada including the actions of previous governments which harmed the use, sharing, and keeping of Indigenous languages by Indigenous peoples. Despite these hardships, which impacts we continue to see today, our community amongst many others continue to persevere and witness the revitalization of language.

Today, we recognize and celebrate the legacy of language, and the ongoing efforts of those who continue to work to protect, educate, and revitalize across Canada. To learn more about the importance of indigenous language, and for a more local experience, connect with WFN’s Sncewips Heritage Museum team.