Elders sing Christmas carols in Secwepemctsin to help language learners

Seven elders are featured in a video singing Christmas carols in Secwepemctsin, also known as Shuswap, so current learners and future generations have a recording to learn from. 

Video to be used as resource for intermediate level students

Elders Jean William, Cecila De Rose, Bridget Dan, Clara Camille, Darlene Louie, Antoinette and Elsie Archie sing Christmas carols in Secwepemctsin at a church in Sugar Cane, B.C. (Spi7uy Squqluts Language and Culture Society)

Cecilia De Rose remembers hearing the older generation singing Christmas carols in Secwepemctsin, the language of the Secwépemc people, as a child. 

But she didn't have the opportunity to memorize them like they did because of residential school, where she wasn't allowed to speak her first language and instead was learning English, French and Latin.

"The older generation all knew [the songs] by heart. And then we came along and wrote it," she said. 

De Rose is a celebrated champion for language revitalization in her nation, whose territory covers a vast area of the B.C. Interior. She has dedicated decades to the work and continues teaching and contributing her knowledge, including mentoring language learners one-on-one to increase their fluency. 

Now she's also one of seven elders featured in a video singing Christmas carols in Secwepemctsin, also known as Shuswap, so current learners and future generations have a recording to learn from. 

Cody William, a language co-ordinator for the Spi7uy Squqluts Language and Culture Society, has been making videos in Secwepemctsin with De Rose and other fluent speakers to beef up the amount of materials they have for learners.

He said over the years the nation has built up a good base of resources for beginners but they started to notice they didn't have much for intermediate, advanced and silent speakers.

In the past couple years he has worked with speakers to produce a range of videos in the language to help build their intermediate-level resources. They've made videos of things like medicine walks, making jam and bannock, and now, Christmas tunes. 

"We're just looking to have as much language available to all of our members, free," he said. 

The work William is doing in Secwepemctsin is focused on the northern dialect, though he says people across the dialects of the language can understand each other. 

1 rehearsal

William said making a video of Christmas carols came at the request of a board member who knew people could sing them in Secwepemctsin but wanted them to be recorded.  

William floated the idea to a group of elders and they agreed to get together and sing on video. 

We just get together and just give 'er- Cecilia De Rose

"We all met one day, and we decided which Christmas carols we were going to sing," he said. 

De Rose said she remembers thinking it was a great idea, but laughed and said, "it was kind of scary."

The elders who agreed to do the video live in different communities and were able to get together and rehearse only once that she's aware of. 

Then, after a couple of weeks practising at home, De Rose and the others were together in the church at Sugar Cane, B.C., near Williams Lake, camera rolling. 

"So we just get together and just give 'er," she said. 

Popular online

William posted the video online early in December and said it spread quickly on Facebook. 

It didn't take long for De Rose's children to tell her about the reaction online. 

"I don't have Facebook — I'm peaceful and quiet at home — but everybody else is commenting on it and everybody's all excited about it."

William said the videos they've been producing have been receiving great feedback and are being put to good use as teaching material. 

"There are lots of language programs going on in our nation right now. We are really trying to revitalize, revive our language," he said.

"We're all helping each other out as much as we can."