Northern B.C. school districts collaborate to create for-credit Indigenous language curriculum

·3 min read
Jennifer Pighin, district vice-principal of language and culture for School District 57, says the Dakelh language curriculum will be taught to students in Grades 5 to 12. The course will be recognized for credits toward graduation. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
Jennifer Pighin, district vice-principal of language and culture for School District 57, says the Dakelh language curriculum will be taught to students in Grades 5 to 12. The course will be recognized for credits toward graduation. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

Three school districts in northern, B.C. are working together to add an endangered Indigenous language to the provincial curriculum as a way for students to earn credits toward graduation.

The Dakelh language is spoken by members of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation in Prince George and by other First Nation communities in north central and northwest B.C.

According to the district vice-principal of language and culture in School District 57, there are very few Dakelh speakers in the community who are certified to teach. However, with the help of elders who are fluent in Dakelh, school districts in Prince George, Nechako Lakes and Quesnel are currently drafting curriculum that will be submitted for approval by the Ministry of Education and could help revitalize the language.

"It's something that we've been hoping for and dreaming of for quite a few years," said Jennifer Pighin on the CBC's Daybreak North. "And something that maybe should have been happening the whole time."

She said as a way to start building the number of fluent Dakelh speakers, the curriculum will be taught to students in Grades 5 to 12.

Pighin says they'll be able to provide the curriculum to all schools in the province, as soon as it is approved by the Ministry of Education.
Pighin says they'll be able to provide the curriculum to all schools in the province, as soon as it is approved by the Ministry of Education.(School District 57)

"We know that language isn't normally taught explicitly, it's absorbed through experience and exposure to the language," Pighin said, "And we've had so much of that language taken over ... so bringing it back is extremely important and one way to do that is to start with our youth."

Growing up in Prince George, Pighin said she also had very little exposure to the language and was only taught a few words when her mom was taking a course at the local college. She said language gives students a sense of belonging and helps them understand the world around them.

"Within each language, how you talk about things really shapes how you envision the world," she said. "You can get deeper into the meanings behind the words and ... understand the world a little bit differently than we do from the English language, where there's lots of binaries and ... lots of black and white."

Each school district is currently working on digitizing audio files, creating resources with activities, lessons and games to help teachers who may not be Dakelh speakers, teach the language.

"Luckily, I see alongside myself a lot of younger learners ... who are embracing it and teaching it to their kids as well," Pighin said. "So I know that we're on the right track where a trajectory is taking a turn and we're building more speakers."

The Ministry of Education says it needs to approve the curriculum before making it available for use in schools.

LISTEN | Jennifer Pighin talks about the Dakelh language curriculm on Daybreak North:

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