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Chief Atahm School

Gathering birchbark for baskets

Chief Atahm School is located at Sexqeltqin (Adams Lake Reserve) in Chase, B. C. Chief Atahm School is the only Secwepemctsin (Shuswap language) Immersion program within the Secwepemc Nation. It has proved very successful for young children to acquire Secwepemctsin.


1n 1996, a group of Secwepemc parents were very concerned about the rapid decline of Secwepemctsin in their communities. They decided to begin an Immersion program based on the Maori Te Kohanga Reo (language nests) in New Zealand. The parents secured a building on the Adams Lake reserve and began a language nest program for babies to children five years of age.


An Elder was present to speak the language constantly to the children. The children were not directly taught lessons but acquired the language in a natural, home-like setting. Parents volunteered to assist in children’s care. The activities varied from nature walks, crafts, story time, playtime, cooking, and singing (traditional) songs. The administration, fund raising, and care of the children were carried out entirely by parent volunteers

Parents were required to volunteer their time while their children were in the program. If the parents worked, they paid a childcare fee in lieu of volunteering at the language nest. At this time, there was no establishing funding for preschool Immersion programs, so the parents raised the majority of funds. The parents were determined to implement the program and were able to do so with constant fund raising.

The program proved very successful for the acquisition of Secwepemctsin. The children showed a great deal of understanding and began speaking language.

The program continued for the next three years until the oldest children were old enough to begin grade one. The parents secured another building and began the first ever Secwepemctsin Immersion program. There were seventeen students registered. One fluent Elder and a certified teacher were hired to teach in the program. The parents began the program with sheer determination despite virtually no curriculum or program plan available. The goal of Chief Atahm School was to promote emotional and spiritual healing; to promote the physical and intellectual well being of the community; and the re-discovery of Secwepemc identity through language, culture, and history. Secwepemctsin was the language of instruction.

The teacher planned most of the activities and the Elder presented them in Secwepemctsin. Total Physical Response, a method of teaching vocabulary, was used extensively. All other activities were experiential and promoted active involvement of the students. The lessons incorporated real objects, actions, and pictures to facilitate understanding and speaking of Secwepemctsin. The students also participated in many cultural activities, such as singing, dancing, berry picking. Instruction was conducted entirely in Secwepemctsin. The language was used in a real, meaningful ways through conversation, stories, legends, and songs. Besides learning how to speak Secwepemctsin, the students learned the traditional values and beliefs. The students developed a high degree of understanding, speaking, reading, and writing fluency as they were exposed to the language for five hours, five days per week.

Each year as the students moved to the next grade, the school program was expanded to accommodate them. Chief Atahm Immersion continued as an Immersion program for the next nine years. When the first students who had begun the program reached grade eight and nine, some English courses were added. At the same time, when the other students had reached grade four, they also participated in some English courses. In addition to the Secwepemctsin and English offered, many other courses based on self-sufficiency were implemented, such as, carpentry, sewing, cooking, organic gardening, building structures, and permaculture. The students also participated in many cultural activities, such as, outdoor survival; fishing; smoking salmon; making baskets, drums, moccasins, crafts; camping; hiking; running.

Cordwood House built by Chief Atahm Students

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