British Columbia

Next generation takes on preserving Secwépemctsín language

Julienne Ignace, the daughter of Chief Ron Ignace and professor Marianne Ignace, is about to join her parents in their work to preserve their traditional language and culture as she graduates from university with a degree in linguistics.

Julienne Ignace following in her parents footsteps of preserving traditional language and culture

Julienne Ignace, the daughter of Chief Ron Ignace and professor Marianne Ignace, is about to join her parents in their work to preserve their traditional language and culture. (Marianne Ignace)

Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace and his wife Marianne have been actively working to preserve their traditional language of  Secwépemctsín and their Indigenous culture all their lives. That work is about to continue as their daughter Julienne finishes university with her own degree in linguistics, in which she focused heavily on Secwépemctsín.

Julienne was raised speaking Secwépemctsín at home with her parents — in fact, she didn't start speaking English until she started first grade. 

Marianne, a professor in the Department of Linguistics at Simon Fraser University, said the language is considered critically endangered, because less than 100 adults continue to speak it. When she and Ignace started having children, they took it upon themselves to teach Secwépemctsín to the kids.

"Our schools don't provide enough of it to make young children or young adults fluent enough in the language, so we started using it as a home language, speaking it to our kids," she said. 

Ignace was raised speaking Secwépemctsín with his great grandmother. 

"Before she left this land, this world, she admonished me to go out and to learn things and to come back and help the people," he said. "The language has always been central to my way of life."

The Ignace family is researching and documenting the Secwépemctsín language to maintain and preserve it. (Marianne Ignace)

Ignace went on to teach courses in the Secwepemc language at Simon Fraser University, and he and Marianne wrote the book Secwepemc People, Land and Laws, which won them the 2018 Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize. Last year, the pair won a Governor General's Award for Innovation, for their research that aims to help the public understand Indigenous peoples' connection to the land and language. 

Julienne plans to continue their legacy by researching and documenting the language, so it can be preserved and maintained. 

"[It's] kind of the same work I was essentially always raised to do really, which I've been doing in some way, form or fashion for most of my life," she said.

Ignace said seeing his daughter carry on the work he and his wife have dedicated their lives to brings him hope.

"I find that very inspiring that more and more of our people will take up various aspects of our language and culture and breathe life back into it," he said.

"I'm proud of her."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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