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Trip to Hawaii teaches language preservation

Angie Harris and Dawnda Nahanee wear their shirts they bought while in Hawaii.

Back from the land of luaus and beaches, the Hulq’umin’um language students of Stz’uminus First Nation are a little bit further ahead in their fight to keep their language alive.

“I think indigenous languages are in crises today,” said Dawnda Nahanee, one of the students who went to Hawaii.

The eight students and two teachers attended a language conference in Honolulu from Feb. 8 to 16. The trip was an important step in their language training.

Nahanee said Hawaii is really advanced in preserving their language.

“We’re in a very pivotal time in history for projects like this,” she said.

The students attended workshops and the teachers were also given the opportunity to experience an immersion program.

“It’s good for the teachers to see how immersion works,” Nahanee said, adding the workshops were intense.

“They were really fast and furious. We were moving all day and taking in a lot.”

Harris said she liked learning about the technical aspects of a language, like how it is documented or recorded.

The students learned how creating fonts for typing dialect is an important part of using a language.

There were indigenous people from all over the world attending the workshops, Nahanee said, including Canada, parts of the U.S., Polynesia, New Zealand, South America, Mexico and South Africa.

“It was the whole world, it was cool.”

Nahanee said they learned about a nation from the east coast that home schools their children to ensure complete immersion.

“I think that’s something that opened my eyes,” she said.

“If we’re going to save it we have to do something.”

Nahanee said the trip helped her become more aware.

“Only some of our elders speak fluently, it’s not practiced every day,” she said. “If we don’t do something now we’re going to lose a lot.”

Harris said she is worried they’ve lost so much already.

“We’re now just taking baby steps.”

That fear and longing to preserve their language is why a group of 22 students meet three days a week at the Stz’uminus Community Centre.

There’s also a generational divide they’re hoping to address.

“My kids knew more than I did and that’s why I took the classes,” Harris explained.

Nahanee and Harris are almost done their first year of classes and will be moving on to the second level in September.

“We’re working on it becoming a community thing,” Harris said.

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