First Nations languages, culture and heritage are integral to the health of all members of First Nations communities.
British Columbia is the only province in Canada to create a Crown corporation to lead First Nations heritage, language, culture and the arts projects throughout the province. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2015 and plays a vital role supporting First Nations communities to revitalize their languages, arts and culture.
- In British Columbia, 203 First Nations communities have 34 languages (more than any other province in Canada) and 61 dialects.
- According to a 2014 report, the number of fluent speakers of Indigenous languages in B.C. over time has declined to 5,289 persons or 4.08%. More than half of these people are over 65 years of age. At the same time, language revitalization is paying off with the next generation as the number of semi-fluent speakers increased to more than 11,600 or just over 9%, with 29% being under age 25 years of age. The report also found that 120 communities have recordings of their language available as a community resource. This number has more than doubled since 2010.
- In 2014, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council made a significant achievement by partnering with the Royal BC Museum to create ‘Our Living Languages’, a groundbreaking exhibition using interactive technologies, original artwork, video, audio and live engagement to showcase the history and diversity of First Nations languages in B.C.
- First Peoples’ Cultural Council programs include:
- First Voices, an internationally recognized online Indigenous language documentation and teaching resource. The First Voices archive currently hosts 23 of 34 First Nations languages in B.C. and 38 of 61 dialects, each with its own dictionary, alphabet and corresponding keyboard. Through First Voices, 117 First Nations communities now have access to an archive of their language. In 2010, the number of communities was 66.
- FirstVoices Keyboard app, an innovative marriage of new technology, language and culture, which allows people to email, text and send documents typed in their Indigenous language from their mobile devices.
- Mentor-Apprentice Program, which pairs language learners with fluent speakers from their community.
- Pre-School Language Nest Program, where Elders and other fluent speakers interact with children up to five years of age.
- Language Revitalization Planning program which supports communities that speak the same language or dialects of the same language to come together to create long-term language revitalization plans, share resources and serve as the decision-making bodies for their own languages and dialects.
- Supported by provincial funding, the council provides annual Indigenous language and arts grants to communities and individuals in British Columbia.
- Through the Ministry of Education, 16 First Nations language curricula are providing choice for students and strengthening the presence of First Nations culture and history in the classroom. Fifty-six school districts have at least one Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement. Some school districts have identified Aboriginal language goals through these agreements.
- Since 2011-12, the Ministry of Advanced Education has provided $650,000 in targeted funding to the First Nations Education Steering Committee for the First Nations Language Teacher Education Initiative. This provided support for the development and delivery of First Nations language teacher education programs in seven First Nations communities through a number of activities, including delivery of developmental standard term certificate programs, research and professional development and completion of language certification frameworks and courses.
- The Ministry of Advanced Education is working with Aboriginal education organizations and a consortium of B.C. post-secondary institutions to develop an Indigenous Language fluency degree. The development of this degree program is one of the early actions resulting from the provincial government’s work to develop a First Nations Social Determinants of Health Strategy with the First Nations Health Council.
- B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions offer a range of Aboriginal language-related courses and programs, including Developmental Standard Term Certificate programs leading to certification of Aboriginal language teachers.
- For more information on the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, please visit: www.fpcc.ca/Default.aspx