Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the Stó:lō Shxweli Halq'eméylem Language Program

On Friday last, I attended Professional Development in my district, conveniently at my school, Agassiz Elem.-Secondary.  I was thinking if it was lame, I could duck upstairs to my room and work on IEPs.  My first scheduled workshop was a presentation by the Stó:lō Shxweli Halq'eméylem Language Program, represented  by Thelma Wenman, the program coordinator and Jared Deck, one of her employees, and a very talented illustrator.  There was no thought of sneaking off to my room after I showed up.  Thelma is a part of my world, if peripherally (we drift into each others’ worlds randomly, much like all my interactions with many of the Stó:lō people I know), she asked after my Mom and the conversation was familiar.

Going into the workshop, I had been told by a District staff member that there had been concern that the presentation would not run, as only two of us had signed up to this particular workshop, but that they had decided to go ahead with it anyway.  It would be two more than had seen it otherwise.  The two swelled to four as my school’s First Nations Support Workers joined the audience.  I am disappointed in the turnout many of these Aboriginal-themed presentations tend to get.  I have been to so many where I was among the few in the audience, or in the workshop, often surrounded by FNSWs, other teachers of Aboriginal ancestry, or administrators who had decided that they needed to have some of this type looked at and considered.  I have also seen excited leaders herald in a new era of Aboriginal education and focus, only to attend one or two workshops and disappear.  I am not singling out, or necessarily referring to my district, for those of you who might be administrators in my district, I am referring to the general state of commitment in the province to Aboriginal education and improved success for Aboriginal students.  I see a lot of the same faces at workshops or conferences I attend on the subject (and there are some that I no longer attend, but that is a different post).

At any rate, this is not the first time I had attended a presentation by Stó:lō Shxweli, and, while it was very informal, I was impressed with the growth that had occurred in the time since I had last seen them.  In addition to the language app out for the iPhone, which they are responsible for, they have developed a variety of multi-media programs, including a wiki designed for students and several books and cd-roms which tell cultural stories in the language.  There are interactive games available as well. They also maintain the Halq'eméylem page and several other projects that are ongoing.  They also offered classes and work with the local school districts and universities to see that the language is taught.

My Auntie, Elizabeth Herrling was very involved in this program, you can hear her voice all over all of these programs.  She ensured that not just one form of the language was being preserved but my own upriver dialect was also being preserved.  The wiki page called the audio recordings the Elizabeth Herrling Collection.  Students could modify the content there, spelling of words, etc., but Thelma assured us that the words, the pronunciation was sacred.  It was laid out by the Elders, like Lizzie, and no one had the right to tell them that they were speaking their language wrong.  I actually sort of teared up when she said that, embarrassing admission there.

The other attendee mentioned that he had been to a reserve out east where, upon turning on the radio, he had heard the local Native language being spoken.  He had seen and heard it spoken commonly be many people around him.  He had acknowledged that this particular group was more remote than the Stó:lō.  And there is the key difference.  The Stó:lō are front and centre in a territory that has been settled, somewhat densely by Canada.  So much so that several of the Bands are within the boundaries of Chilliwack, or skirting the edges of Agassiz, Hope, and Abbotsford.  It is hard to maintain the language when there is so much around you closing in and displacing the opportunities to learn afforded by being on the land.

Please go check out their website for more information.  I love how they are using technology to preserve an endangered language.

From their website :

To ensure the future of Halq'eméylem language, we strive for oral and written fluency in all dialects, to create an atmosphere where Halq'eméylem is the first language spoken in our homes; 
We will also ensure the integrity of the Stó:lō worldview by creating places where Elders can come together to share the language and our teachings with each other and with our children. 
In respect of Xá:ls who created and made the world right, we will teach our Halq'eméylem language through our Elders, to present and future generations.

I am happy that I didn’t sneak off to my room.

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