Saving a culture

The Syilx Language House is doing a lot more than just saving an ancient language.

It is helping to restore a culture that was nearly wiped from the face of the earth.

Fewer than 50 elders are still fluent in Syilx, but the Syilx Language House is working hard to change that by teaching the next generation how to speak their ancestral language.

While the school may be located in Penticton, Syilx used to be spoken by all of the Okanagan's first people.

Students come from throughout the region to learn how to speak their ancestral tongue and Michele Johnson has plans to teach even more people the language of their past.

The Syilx Nation stretches across the Interior Plateau from Revelstoke to northern Washington.

There are seven Syilx communities in Canada: Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB,) Westbank First Nation WFN, Penticton Indian Band PIB, Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB,) Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB,) Upper Similkameen Indian Band (USIB,) Upper Nicola Indian Band (UNIB,) and the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT in Washington), which includes Sinixt members.

“The reason the language is so important is it's so vitally interconnected with our culture and our way of being and our connection with the universe,” said Johnson who is one of two teachers at the language house. “It's intricately connected to the health of our communities.”

The program does receive some government grants, but it is only enough for two to three students to take the course that is 2,000 hours spread over four years.

For the language to not only survive, but rebound, many more people need to learn it so Johnson is embarking on a fundraising campaign to generate funds for more students.

“To really turn around language decline we want to aim at starting 30-60 people next year,” said Johnson, adding it costs $50,000 per student over the four-year course.

Full videos on the learning centre, but more information on how to help can be found on their website.

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