How do you save a dying language?
Only seven people on the planet speak the Squamish language.
The Squamish Nation is composed of about 4,000 members – most of them living on reserves in North Vancouver and the Squamish Valley.
But Khelsilem, with the non-profit group Kwi Awt Stelmexw, says their language is on the brink of extinction.
“Prior to contact we were hit by diseases and then following that we were impacted by the assimilation and cultural genocide policies by the Canadian government.”
But Kwi Awt Stelmexw isn’t prepared to let the language just slip away.
The non-profit is partnering with SFU to launch a two-year full-time adult immersion program for the Squamish language.
Modeled after similar indigenous language programs in elsewhere in Canada and in New Zealand, the program aims to turn out 15 adult speakers every year.
Khelsilem says it’s about keeping the soul of the community.
“Our connection to our land, our connection to our culture just wouldn’t be the same. Without our language I don’t know if we can call ourselves Squamish anymore. That’s the existential crisis that we face if our language dies, and we let it die.”
The program hopes to grow the number of Squamish speakers to 157 by 2027
But it’s by no means a sure thing. The program will only be funded if enough people sign up.
Applications are being accepted until March 18 this year.