British Columbia

New Indigenous immersion program launching to teach kindergartners Kwak'wala

A new language immersion program is coming to a Vancouver Island elementary school — and no, it’s not the typical Spanish or Mandarin language programs. It’s Kwak'wala.

School District 72 approved the pilot program at one Vancouver Island school for September

Kindergarten students, like those pictured above, will have the option to be immersed in the Kwak'wala Indigenous language starting in September. (Iam Anupong/Shutterstock)

A new language immersion program is coming to a Vancouver Island elementary school — and no, it's not the typical Spanish or Mandarin language programs. It's Kwak'wala.

School District 72 recently gave the green light for the new pilot project in the Kwak'wala language and culture at Ripple Rock Elementary in Campbell River.

Starting in September, kindergarten students will be immersed in the Indigenous language, which is spoken in parts of coastal B.C. including Vancouver Island. 

"This project was totally a joint project between our district and our First Nations community," said Nevenka Fair, assistant superintendent for School District 72.

The idea was prompted by members of the community who approached the district, asking for a follow to the three preschool programs that currently teach the language.

"We thought about how our French immersion program actually began — by parents coming forward and saying could this happen — and so we just took that example and we went to the [school] board," Fair said.

'Dreaming of this for years and years'

The proposal fit in with the district's aims of embedding Aboriginal ways of knowing within the curriculum, Fair explained.

It also follows 2019 being declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations.

"The community has been dreaming of this for years and years and it's about time that we're taking this on," Fair told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC's On The Island.

Fair said both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families attended the consultations and supported the idea of the program. The hope is a mixture of students will register for the class as the program takes off.

"There will be an added cost [to the program] but the board really sees this as an important step, not only towards reconciliation but language as the foundation of all cultures," said Fair.

"They unanimously voted 'Let's do this' because they think it's that important."

A new language immersion program is coming to a Vancouver Island elementary school - and no, it's not the typical Spanish or Mandarin language programs. It's Kwak'wala. 8:31

With files from On The Island