The Syilx Language House passed another milestone this year, celebrating the end of their third year of an intensive program to become fluent in Nsyilxcn, the traditional language of the Syilx nation.
Students in the program have completed 1200 hours of the 1600-hour immersion program and got a chance to show off their skills with a series of presentations Wednesday at the Foothills Centre on the Penticton Indian Band reserve.
The program draws students from throughout the Okanagan Nation. The goal is for them to bring their language back to their communities and help others become fluent.
“That’s the dream. But it is more than just a dream; I truly think it will become a reality,” said Jordan Coble, from the Westbank First Nation. He made his presentation with Levi Bent of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, with each translating the other’s presentation to English for the non-fluent members of the audience.
It was a presentation filled with humour, especially when it came to their very few mistranslations. Coble said that laughter is important, but it comes with the knowledge that this is a serious endeavour to save a language that is critically endangered, with the number of fluent speakers dropping every year.
“What keeps bringing me here is the laughter we share with one another. The open-heartedness and open-mindedness that we have to accept each other for who we are,” said Coble. “But we know that the work really has to be taken seriously. So when we bring it back to our community, and we will be bringing it back to our communities, we hope to bring that same kind of healthy environment in our own places.”
The strength of language house is that they all come from all parts of the territory, according to Coble, who said the experience may be different when they bring the language lessons to their community, where people think they know each other.
“What they are going to experience, and I experienced here, is that you don’t really know each other until you know each other in the language,” said Coble.
Bent echoes Coble’s feelings.
“This is one of those things that brings us together as a nation. Collectively, we represent all seven bands,” said Bent. “It is creating a lot of harmony within ourselves — friendship, bonds and pride in our heritage and ourselves.”
Next year, they say, they will be challenging themselves by taking their skills into day-to-day experiences. Bent said they’ve already been spending time outside of the classroom, experiencing the language in daily life on a field trip, telling stories, chatting, talking about what was going on around them
“All in the language. We joke around, but we’re serious when we say we are going to be in the language, we stick to it. We spent the whole day doing everything we needed to do in the language,” said Bent. “The next step is to take the training wheels off. I think we’re ready, we’re at the level where we are ready for that.”
The students received praise from Jonathon Kruger, who was one of the program supporters when he was chief of the Penticton Indian Band.
“I heard ‘steep hill.’ I heard ‘very challenging learning.’ And I heard ‘I am proud of learning the language and learning our cultural ways,’” said Kruger, expressing concern they are running out of time to save the language.
“I’ve seen your confidence go from being shaky and nervous to being confident and bold. That is amazing. You guys have done so much in these last three years,” he said.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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