BC invests in First Nations Languages and Cultures: Revitalizing Voices

·3 min read

There will be close to $35 million in new provincial funding for the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) and the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation (FPCF) to support and strengthen the reclamation and revitalization of First Nations languages, arts, cultural heritage and revitalization programming and operations across the province.

This funding builds upon a landmark $50-million grant provided to the FPCC in 2018 to address the language crisis and help revitalize Indigenous languages in British Columbia. Together, the FPCC and FPCF will continue to revitalize Indigenous languages, arts and heritage in the province. Their combined expertise, strong relationships and decades of experience working alongside First Nations across B.C. on cultural revitalization has translated into measurable progress, according to Tracey Herbert, CEO of the FPCC.

“This new funding is an important step forward in fulfilling FPCC’s mandate to strengthen and revitalize our First Nations languages, arts, culture and heritage,” Herbert said in a recent press release. “We are excited to respond to the needs identified by our Knowledge Keepers by creating more opportunities to share their Indigenous knowledge with the next generation. FPCC will continue to build technology, resources, programs and employment opportunities to ensure that our living cultural spaces, practices and knowledge are thriving into the future.”

British Columbia has a diversity of languages and is home to 34 First Nations languages and more than 90 dialects, making up more than half of all First Nations languages in Canada. And the desire to learn these languages is increasing. As of the 2018 Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages, there were 13,997 new learners and 4,132 speakers, with 78 per cent of new learners being younger than 25.

Herbert said the funding gives the FPCC the ability to offer more supports to communities, noting the organization also receives funding from the federal government and non-governmental organizations.

In 2020 and 2021, the FPCC delivered more than $20.4 million in grants to individuals and communities and supported more than 4,150 language-immersion opportunities. In addition, 182 cultural practices were documented They involved 940 people in arts projects.

“Languages, arts, cultures and heritage are the lifeblood of our communities and integral to our well-being, individually and collectively,” said Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams, board chair with the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation. “Funding like this contributes to innovative tools and programs needed for the critical work of documenting, safeguarding and rebuilding our cultural systems so we can pass them on to future generations.”

As a part of the new funding, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training is providing $2.6 million to the FPCC to boost the Youth Empowered Speakers (YES) Program, which provides B.C. First Nations students who are studying education and early childhood education with one-on-one mentor-apprentice language learning and funding to support their post-secondary studies. It also addresses the need to develop new First Nations language speakers to become immersion teachers who will work in First Nations communities to deliver community immersion programming across the province.

“The power you feel learning your language — there are no words for it. You feel so much more connected to your culture in so many ways because of your language,” said Autumn Cooper of the Stz’uminus First Nation’s Youth Empowered Speakers Program. “Receiving support from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council’s Youth Empowered Speakers Program has been a life-changing journey and I am so thankful that I have this opportunity. As a teacher, I envision creating a fully immersive classroom experience where culture and language are connected.”

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer