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Language Loss

Janice Billy instructs a language class circa 2003

One of the most devastating forces contributing to Secwepemc culture and language loss was compulsory attendance at Indian Residential School. These schools almost succeeded in eradicating the language and culture. Not only were these schools responsible for decimating the language, culture, and spirituality, they wreaked many psychological effects on the people which include:

  • loss of Secwepemc identity;
  • loss of personal identity;
  • shame of being Secwepemc and speaking the language; and
  • loss of cultural, ecological, and historical knowledge.

The result is low self-esteem; low self-confidence, and lack of pride in one’s Secwepemc identity. Intergenerational transmission of language and culture was effectively halted by attendance at these schools. Secwepemctsin is no longer the first language of the people. English is the first language spoken in the homes of Secwepemc.

Many other factors contributed to the near extinction of Secwepemctsin. Through colonization, the Secwepemc were dispossessed of their traditional lands and resources and forced to live in marginalized and degraded environments called Indian reserves. Many law and policies were implemented to exclude the Secwepemc from living and using their traditional territories and practicing their way of life. In addition, much of the Secwepemc traditional territory, where culture and language take place, has been destroyed by forestry, mining, agriculture, mass scale tourism, and residential developments. The Secwepemc were forced to succumb to assimilation which resulted in the near eradication of language and culture.

The effects language suppression lingers on and affects the Secwepemc to this day. The loss of Secwepemc means loss of years of accumulated knowledge of cultural and spiritual practices, ecological and technical wisdom; and world view and expression of unique peoples.

Reviving Secwepemctsin

Despite the incredible threats imposed upon the Secwepemc, they survived and have begun the arduous work of rebuilding the Secwepemc Nation. Many communities are implementing language and culture programs; researching oral history, creating curriculum, and in the process, developing a new memory of being Secwepemc. There are many Elders committed and dedicated to ensuring the Secwepemc way of life survives and flourishes once again. These Elders spend countless hours teaching the culture, language, and recounting the history to the youth and other community members.

There is growing interest among the younger generation to acquire Secwepemctsin and to relearn the culture.

The most successful program for acquiring Secwepemctsin within the Secwepemc Nation is Chief Atahm Immersion School which is located on the Adams Lake reserve in Chase, B. C. Other language programs are held at these locations.

  • Simon Fraser University, Kamloops reserve, Kamloops, B. C. (university credit courses)
  • Switsmalph Learning Center, Adams Lake reserve, Salmon Arm, B. C. (adult students)
  • Chase Secondary School, Chase, B.C. (high school students)
  • Bonaparte Band School, Cache Creek, B. C. (elementary students)
  • Eliza Archie Memorial School, Canim Lake, B. C. (elementary students)
  • Seklep School of Excellence, Kamloops, B C. (elementary students)
  • Neqweyqwlsten Band School, Barriere, B. C. (elementary students)
  • various public schools in School District #27 and #73

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