British Columbia

UBC's Okanagan campus launches Canada's 1st Indigenous language degree program

This September, students who have completed a two-year diploma program in Nsyilxcn language fluency are eligible to enroll in UBCO's new Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency program.

Bachelor of Nsyilxcn language fluency program helps to revitalize an endangered language, says UBCO professor

Jeannette Armstrong, the associate professor of Indigenous studies at UBC Okanagan, is welcoming the first batch of incoming students to the Nsyilxcn language fluency degree program that she leads. (UBC Okanagan)

Students at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C., will soon be able to receive an Indigenous language fluency degree.

This September, students who have completed a two-year diploma program in the Nsyilxcn language with the En'owkin Centre in Penticton and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt will be able to transfer their credits toward earning the UBCO's new bachelor of Nsyilxcn language fluency.

Nsyilxcn is an endangered language spoken among the peoples of the Okanagan Nation, which includes bands in the Lower Similkameen, Okanagan, Osoyoos, Penticton and West Bank.

Jeannette Armstrong — a knowledge keeper of the Syilx First Nation and associate professor of Indigenous studies at UBCO — says although Nsyilxcn language learners are increasing, only about 250 people speak the language with native proficiency. 

Armstrong says the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency program she leads is Canada's first ever degree program taught in an Indigenous language and is critical in keeping the endangered Nsyilxcn language alive.

"Their [First Nations elders'] dream was really clear about maintaining the language and making it important and revitalizing it in our everyday lives, because it's a beautiful language," she told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South.

During the two year UBCO portion of the degree program, enrolled students will have to take immersive language courses, as well as courses on revitalizing endangered Indigenous languages. 

Armstrong says she's excited when imagining the first batch of graduates from this program.

"I think about my parents and my aunties and uncles and wish that they could have been there to see that,"  she said. "It's just  one of the things that you dream about happening and that I wouldn't be able to express my feelings about it."

The UBCO's Nsyilxcn language fluency degree program is part of the B.C. government's $2 million initiative to create academic programs of Indigenous language fluency across the province.

WATCH | Okanagan Nation member Richard Armstrong speaks Nsyilxcn language 


The University of Northern British Columbia is working with the Wilp Wilxo'oskwhl Nisga'a Institute to create an Indigenous language program that is expected to launch in March 2022, according to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the B.C. government in 2019, states that Indigenous peoples have the right to establish an education conducted in their own languages.

Tap the link below to hear Jeannette Armstrong's interview on Daybreak South:

With files from Daybreak South and Canadian Press