Indigenous languages, friendship centre funding welcomed in B.C. spending plan

Funding for housing and childcare were much expected in Tuesday’s budget speech, but it was spending for Indigenous programs that led B.C. Finance Minister Carole James’ budget speech.

$50 million for revitalization of languages highlighted in B.C. budget

Tracey Herbert of the First People's Cultural Council, with B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, says B.C. is home to 60 per cent of Canada's Indigenous languages and all of them are severely endangered. (Tracey Herbert)

Funding for housing and childcare were much expected in Tuesday's budget speech, but it was spending for indigenous communities that took top billing in B.C. Finance Minister Carole James' budget speech.

James began her spending highlights with commitments to Indigenous reconciliation, including funding promises of $50 million for indigenous language revitalization and $6 million over three years for aboriginal friendship centres.

Tracey Herbert, CEO the First People's Cultural Council, said the funding announcement is exciting for the organization which has been putting forward case studies and models for investment in indigenous languages.

"In B.C. we have 60 per cent of Canada's Indigenous languages and they're all severely endangered," Herbert told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

It will take a significant investment to ensure that languages are documented with opportunities to learn them in every community, she said.

Up to now, with their small budget, the FPCC has had success with a mentor-apprentice program.

"We're…pairing a fluent speaker with someone really committed to learning the language," Herbert said. "Supporting them, training them, coaching. And over a three-year period they build an intermediate fluency in the language and then they're often tapped to go and be the speaker at ceremonies or brought into the schools."

At the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria, language apprentices have gone on to earn education degrees. They now work at the school, teaching SENĆOŦEN  —  one of the Coast Salish group of languages that is written in a mainly upper-case alphabet.

"They have fluent language teachers and have done amazing work in just a decade because of the commitment they've had from their community and their school district and of course with a bit of help from First Peoples' (Cultural Council)," she said.

Past work on documenting languages has not necessarily benefited Indigenous communities, she said. 

"A lot of people have come into our communities and worked with us and then they've left with all the data and done dictionaries and copyrighted them and we don't have access to that, or we have to pay for it," Herbert said.

$6 million for friendship centres

The budget announcement also included $6 million over three years friendship centres across B.C.

Ron Rice, executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship centre, said B.C. friendship centres have been working hard to obtain core funding for our societies for nearly two decades.

"We were hoping for $3.1 million a year. Two million dollars is certainly a step in the right direction," Rice said.


With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island with Gregor Craigie.