Unreserved

FIRST WORDS: Martina Shovar speaks Ktunaxa

With fewer than 30 speakers left, you might expect Martina Shovar to feel discouraged about the future of her Ktunaxa language. But she's hopeful.
Martina Shovar is learning the Ktunaxa language, which has less than 30 speakers. But thanks to social media and language-learning apps, she's hopeful a new generation of speakers will emerge. (Submitted by Martina Shovar)

First Words is a podcast focused on Indigenous languages, each episode we welcome a new guest into the hosting chair to teach us a few words in their language. ​


With less than 30 speakers left, you might expect Martina Shovar to feel discouraged about the future of her Ktunaxa language. But she's hopeful. 7:47

With fewer than 30 speakers left, you might expect Martina Shovar to feel discouraged about the future of her Ktunaxa language.

But she's hopeful.

"It's really looking up," Shovar said, thinking about all the younger language learners she knows through social media.

The Ktunaxa are traditionally from the land now known as southeastern B.C., northern Idaho and western Montana. They're made up of six bands — four based in Canada and two based in the U.S. 

Shovar, who is from Windermere, B.C., now lives in Vancouver while going to university.

Like many of her peers, Shovar feels obligated to learn her language from anyone willing to teach her — because she's conscious of the energy it takes to teach.

The mother of a two-year-old daughter herself, Shovar has been teaching her daughter what she can while she's young. But balancing that with her university class schedule and the rest of her life can be a real challenge — just like the challenge she recognizes her elders might face.

"It's a very tiresome job for them to have to be putting in all the work to teach the language when they are tired," she said. "[For me], it's been a bit of a challenge because she's learning, she's growing a lot faster than I am learning Ktunaxa."

On top of teaching her daughter, Shovar is still learning Ktunaxa herself, too. It's time-consuming, she said, and something that current societal structures don't really allow for.

"I think with the history of colonialism and with the residential school telling us that we're not allowed to speak our language, I think that needs to be corrected in the education system," she said. "It's not simply Indigenous people's responsibility to do that on their own time."

It's not simply Indigenous people's responsibility to do that on their own time.- Martina Shovar

The schools deprived many students the chance to speak their language, so schools should be taking the lead in teaching students from a young age, Shovar said. 

"Children want to learn their language — I know I did when I was a child, but it wasn't really offered to me to the extent that we learn French or English when we're in school," she said. 

While she learns the language on her own time, she's hoping her daughter can grow up in a space that allows her to learn from a young age so she can be a fluent speaker one day.  

now