Learn More

Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages – FACT SHEET

This fact sheet presents an overview of the 2010 Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages.

Why a report on the status of B.C. First Nations languages?
British Columbia is home to 60% of the First Nations languages in Canada with 32 distinct languages. This diverse wealth of languages is at risk, however, and every First Nations language in B.C. is in danger of being lost.

This report provides concrete measures to record the status of First Nations languages in B.C. with the hope of building a stronger case for the urgency to act quickly with revitalization efforts. It also highlights the work of B.C. First Nations to revitalize their languages and discusses strategies being used to stem the tide of language extinction.

Findings
Based on the framework created by the First Peoples’ Council for defining and measuring language endangerment according to three variables—speakers, usage and language resources—all B.C. First Nations languages are critically endangered.

Language speakers

  • Fluent speakers make up only 5.1% of the reporting First Nations population and the majority of them are over the age of 65.
    Semi-fluent speakers make up 8.2% of the population; their levels of language proficiency vary widely and about half of them are under the age of 24.

Usage

  • Language learners make up only 11.1% of the reporting population.
  • Approximately 1 – 4 hours a week are spent on language in most non-immersion First Nations operated schools and Head Start Programs.
  • 34% of the students attending a Head Start program or First Nations operated school were reported as not learning a First Nations language.
  • First Nations languages are rarely used in the home, government, media or for daily communication.

Language Resources

  • 31% of communities have language recordings available as a community resource.
  • 53% of communities have curriculum materials for teaching their language.
  • 39% of communities have access to a FirstVoices.com archive of their language.

Why are there so few speakers of First Nations languages?
The dramatic decline in B.C. First Nations languages since the late 1800s is largely due to the following causes:

  • The Canadian government’s severe and brutal assimilation policies
  • The Residential School system followed by Indian Day Schools that removed First Nations children from their homes and forbade them from speaking their languages
  • Social, industrial and cultural pressures from the dominant English-speaking society
  • Exclusion of First Nations languages from government, commerce, industry, arts, education and media

Why is language revitalization important today?
Language is the way a culture is transmitted—it represents the identity of a people and holds cultural, historical, scientific and ecological knowledge. When a language is lost, we all lose out on the knowledge held within it and the unique way its speakers view the world.

What is being done to revitalize languages?
The status of B.C. First Nations language is critical, but the report recognizes that there is considerable work being done in communities to revitalize languages. Actions include:

  • Meeting to share ideas and resources, as well as overcome common challenges
  • Creating new speakers by participating in immersion programs
  • Recording, documenting and archiving languages
  • Developing short- and long-term revitalization plans to benefit communities across language groups

How was this information gathered?
The data used in this report is derived from our 2006–2010 database of “language needs assessments” that are filled out by community organizations when they apply for language funding from the First Peoples’ Council. This data is the most accurate available since it comes directly from First Nations communities and is constantly updated whenever a new language needs assessment is filled out.

To read the full report, go to www.fpcc.ca/language/status-report/ .