The local Ts’uubaa-asatx First Nation is hoping to start a new educational program that would see their native language reintroduced to the community. While they are still awaiting funding for the program, the weekly classes could be starting as soon as next month.
As no band members in Lake Cowichan are fluent in the language, the program would see elders from Duncan and elsewhere in the Cowichan Valley make their way to Lake Cowichan to pass on their knowledge.
Ts’uubaa-asatx operations manager Aaron Hamilton said that interest within the band has been growing, and estimated that 80 per cent of members had an interest in at least gaining a grasp of their traditional language.
“I want to be realistic with what the expectations are,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to take five years or more for anyone to become fluent, and I’d be happy if we just started learning it within the next couple years as more of an awareness thing and to show more dedication from our community to learn more. As for becoming fluent, that’s more of a long-term plan.”
Recently, many members of the band have taken up the opportunity to learn some traditional songs from Ron Hamilton while he carves the pole in the town square.
“Once a week, while Ron is doing the pole, he’s agreed to teach us some of our songs,” Aaron Hamilton said. “We’ve had two sessions so far and we’re just beginning to learn how to sing the songs and what they mean and what the purpose of all of that is. We’re hoping to have stuff ready for when the pole gets raised in September so we can showcase what we’ve learned as well.”
Hamilton said there may be an opportunity for some community members to learn the language through immersion — by spending time fishing and hunting with an elder.
“For the whole duration they’d be learning the language, they’d be immersed in it,” Hamilton said.
Radio Cowichan, which will soon be moving their tower next to the Ts’uubaa-asatx on Deer Road, has also offered to take part in the program by hosting a “vocabulary show” over the air. While Hamilton referred to the program, proposed by Cowichan Valley Community Radio Society chair Mike Bishop, as a “great offer,” the band will be awaiting approval of elders before taking him up on it.
Hamilton said that he personally plans to take part in the classes and to play a role in preserving the language.
“In due time I’d love to become, if not fluent, knowledgable enough to retain some of that for future uses and transfer that to the next generation as well and help lead the charge,” he said.
The Ts’uubaa-asatx will know if the program will be receiving funding in June or July, and plan to start the classes either immediately, or in September. While other bands have run similar programs, Hamilton said their elder-taught program will have to be built from the ground-up.
“The best case scenario is to try your hardest and see if you can salvage it or not,” he said. “Time is against everybody, elders aren’t getting any younger and if we don’t tap into that valuable resource we’re going to lose our language.”