Indigenous

How coaches are supporting Indigenous language revitalization across B.C.

When it comes to Indigenous language revitalization there’s no single place or institution responsible for supporting nations to achieve their goals. But the First Peoples’ Cultural Council wants to make sure communities have one single place to turn for their language planning needs. 

'It starts out with finding out where those communities are at with their language'

Glenn Jim, language revitalization coach, at a Prince George workshop. (G. Danasova/FPCC)

When it comes to Indigenous language revitalization there's no single place or institution responsible for supporting nations to achieve their goals.

But B.C.'s First Peoples' Cultural Council wants to make sure communities have one single place to turn for their language planning needs. It's deploying full-time language revitalization coaches to help bolster language efforts in communities.

They meet with people one-on-one or in group sessions to draft or fine tune language plans that can act as a roadmap for achieving their short and long-term goals. 

Glenn Jim is one of three language revitalization coaches for the council and said long-term strategic planning is crucial. 

"It took many generations to get to this point; it may take a couple more to get back out of it," he said, in reference to the decline in Indigenous languages as a result of colonization. 

"A language plan is a strategic long range plan for the future of the language that lays out the vision a community has for the language and milestones for how they're going to get to that vision," said Aliana Parker, language programs manager with the First Peoples' Cultural Council. 

The council, working under a mandate to support B.C. First Nations in revitalization efforts, knows there's no one-size-fits-all approach to language work. B.C. is home to 34 distinct Indigenous languages and more than 90 dialects.

But what the council does know is that individually funded projects, in isolation, can't lead to fluency unless they're part of a comprehensive plan.

Jim said there are challenges and barriers to getting this work done and sees the role of a coach as working to support communities in reaching their potential. 

"It starts out with finding out where those communities are at with their language," he said. 

"In some regions there are very few speakers. In other areas, for example the Tŝilhqot'in speakers, there's hundreds of speakers. So how you approach language revitalization is determined by that — where your language is actually sitting at that moment."

'Everything needs to support each other'

Jim said when it comes to areas with few speakers, for example, the question becomes how to help create fluency in the community. In that situation, the immediate need is likely in the area of documentation and working with speakers to record the language and document historical teachings or stories. 

There are currently three full-time language coaches working for the council. The language revitalization coach position was first introduced in May 2018. (First Peoples' Cultural Council )

Then there might be a pivot toward training language apprentices, starting a language nest for young children, and creating an adult immersion program. 

"You're looking at nothing in isolation, everything needs to support each other," he said. 

Aliana Parker also sees language planning as a way for First Nations to set the agenda on what their specific needs are, instead of how things are currently structured with communities having to work on project-based budgets and look for what's available in different funding pots. 

"Having a plan is going to allow a community to see those gaps and see who the different players are and take that plan to the various funders… in a much more effective way than the current project-based model," she said. 

Jim said funding does play a big role, but he also said the value of the coaching goes beyond financial planning or grant applications. 

"There is a strong movement towards language revitalization, and it's just asking the right questions," he said.

"The answers for the most part are already in communities.... Money is very important, don't get me wrong with that one, but if we can help them use their resources in a good way it just makes it more beneficial to the communities and the language champions out there."


CBC Indigenous is highlighting a few of the many diverse Indigenous languages that exist across the country. Read more from the Original Voices project.

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