Episode 6: Our Past Our Language - Secwepemc

This episode will examine how effectively a full language immersion program can save a dying language. We will show how a 'Nursery Program' grew to become a high school. We will also take a look at two influential people who have worked hard studying, writing and teaching the language, and about their own struggles trying to press the importance of language to their own children.


season 2 episode 6The Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation is located in South-central British Columbia, they are among the leading groups of language preservation. There are 17 Secwepemc speaking communities that are working together to maintain the language, history and culture. One of the communities involved is the Adams Lake Band in Chase with a population of over 300 members and 12 fluent speakers.

The community's high school "The Chief Atahm School" opened its doors in 1987 as a nursery and has since grown to a full immersion program up to grade 12. The school has 4 round classrooms where teachers can assemble the children in a more ancestral formation for the telling of stories and plays. Since most language teachers are not fluent speakers, an elder to assists them in their teachings, benefiting teachers as well as students.

season 2 episode 6The school's curriculum involves hands on teaching for example; cording wood, building sweat lodges, naming and growing herbs and their different uses for medicinal purposes etc. During the summer months, students manage a garden as a learning experience. This method of teaching educates to the students the values of their language and culture. 'Birth' is a full immersion program dedicated to children from birth to the ages of 5 years, children at the age of 2 are saying their first words in Secwepemc. With this wonderful achievement the future of the language will not have to rely on the elders.

In the nearby community of Kamloops, meaning "where the river meets", we examine the struggles they are having concerning the reopening of their community based school. Chief Ron Igance, head of the Aboriginal Languages Committee of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and his wife Marianne an associate professor and First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University, work tremendously hard on language issues.season 2 episode 6

Together they have successfully established a language teacher immersion program, or language immersion program. This program trains young teachers the language so that they in turn can teach in their communities. Marianne, a nonnative fluent speaker has conducted 16 years of research on the Secwepemc language, and has published a handbook for Aboriginal language program planning, to help communities organize and design language programs for children, adults and elders.

season 2 episode 6Part 1

Chief Ron Ignace, Chairman of the National Chiefs Committee on the Aboriginal Languages for the Assembly of First Nations of British Columbia battles the government and his own people for their support in the revitalization of the Secwepemc language. One of his biggest challenges he admits, is with his own people, the Councils and Chiefs among the Secwepemc nation detract themselves from the language to allow more emphasis on economics and housing. Understanding that this is all true and good, he is trying to relate that language permeates all venues of life, and language should not be left on the back burner.

Marriane, an anthropologist and linguist has done extensive research on thelanguage, she feels that native languages in B.C are in serious trouble. In helping this problem, she has written 'Handbook for Aboriginal Language Program Planning', meant for First Nations communities to organize language programs which will help maintain, revitalize or restore the use of their language for all members.

Between the two, Ron and Marriane have 4 children all of whom understand the language fluently. However, they will not speak it, in order for the Ignace's to get an answer in the Secwepemc language, they have to play deaf. We film them as they try to import the importance of their language to their children at home.

season 2 episode 6Part 2

Robert Matthew is principal of the Chief Atahm Immersion School. We talk briefly to him about the methods the school takes in passing on the language. He believes that everything that a child can learn can be learned in the Shushwap language. Robert credits the success of the school to the dedication of the co-founders, like Kathy Michel.

The success of the Maori people in New Zealand in language retention prompted her to form a core group of parents/volunteers to build the school. We talk to Kathy about the role fundraising has played in keeping the school open and follow her to a fundraising meeting with other parents. Kathy does not speak the language as much as she would like however, she did take some language classes and is learning something new every day. Her 4 children are students at Chief Atahm and are fluent speakers, they help her by translating when she does not understand what a person is saying. Her son who has been a student at the school since the beginning, has graduated and is now going off to a public school, he is proud of his language and of being a fluent speaker.

season 2 episode 6We also meet Seth Armitage, one of the first graduates of Chief Atahm immersion school. Seth is now a teenager and fluent in the Shushwap language. We film him as he speaks to his grandfather in Shushwap.