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Indigenous language revitalization

Embedded within each Indigenous language is a wealth of knowledge and unique cultural expression. Each language carries a community’s system of governance and relationship to the land. Languages represent countless generations of accumulated traditional knowledge and ways of knowing.

There are more than 70 Indigenous languages across 12 language groups currently spoken in Canada. BC is home to 60% of First Nations languages in Canada.

Indigenous communities throughout BC are working diligently to ensure the survival of their languages.

For over 45 years, UVic has been committed to local and national language revitalization efforts. We work closely with Indigenous organizations, Elders, community-based researchers, community language experts and educators.

Our programs

Students in UVic’s Indigenous language revitalization programs:

  • develop practical strategies for Indigenous languages to thrive and flourish
  • build language skills
  • conduct research
  • prepare to be teachers and interpreters
  • connect generations of Indigenous language speakers and educate future generations
  • curate oral histories
  • create new dictionaries, videos and apps

Heading the call for action on truth and reconciliation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s   Calls to Action highlight the critical need for deeper conversations, increased funding and a collective effort to protect and renew Indigenous languages. The university is  heeding that call


UVic Indigenous language programs in the late 1900s

Beginning in the 1970s, UVic has been a leader in post-secondary Indigenous language revitalization in Canada. We provided early training in linguistics and language teaching for speakers of Indigenous languages.

During the 1970s and 80s, UVic offered a “Native Indian Language Diploma” and a “Native Indian Language Teacher Training” program. These programs prepared students to be consultants, curriculum developers and instructors at Indigenous schools and communities in BC and the Yukon Territory.

Many graduates of these programs became leaders in language revitalization efforts. Some students went on to receive the Order of Canada and honorary doctorates for their work. Some continue to play an active role in language revitalization efforts over 45 years later.

UVic Indigenous Language Programs in the early 2000s

In 2002, UVic’s faculty of Education and faculty of Humanities partnered to offer the Developmental Standard Term Certificate in the Campbell River area. This eventually led to the development of two Indigenous language revitalization programs. One was a diploma and the other was a Bachelor of Education. In 2010, both programs were delivered to Vancouver Island communities in community-based contexts.

In 2003, the Coast Salish Language Revitalization Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) was launched. It involved a partnership between UVic, two organizations representing 10 First Nations communities, and two crown corporations. The goal of the CURA was to support communities in building their capacity for the revitalization of traditional languages.

Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization

In 2005, the En'owkin Centre, an Indigenous cultural, educational and creative arts institution, partnered with UVic to launch the Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization (CALR) program. It started off with intensive summer courses in Penticton and at UVic, and then grew to offer courses in several Indigenous community settings across Canada. This program is still running and is now called the Certification in Indigenous Language Revitalization (CILR).

The program has involved many different partnerships over the years. Partners have included the Quuquuatsa Language Society on Vancouver Island, Nunavut Arctic College, and the Chisasibi Heritage and Cultural Centre in the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, Quebec.

CILR students are from diverse communities. They range in age from recent high school graduates to Elders. Their backgrounds and priorities differ, but they share a similar vision. All CILR students wish to participate in or initiate revitalization efforts in their own communities.

CILR students have worked to revitalize the following languages:

  • Inuinnaqtun
  • Nuu-chah-nulth
  • Tłı̨chǫ
  • North Slavey
  • South Slavey
  • Chipewyan
  • Inuvialuktun
  • Gwich’in
  • Kanien'ké:ha (Mohawk)
  • Eastern James Bay Cree

In 2015, UVic responded to community partners’ requests for more language proficiency-building opportunities. To create new adult speakers, we broadened the Diploma in Indigenous Language Revitalization. We added increased language learning courses and maintained options through the CILR program. We also added the option of laddering into the Bachelor of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization.

The first graduate program in language revitalization in BC

In 2007, international researchers identified the five global “hot spots” for threatened Indigenous languages. BC was one of these five spots.

Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams, a member of the Lil’wat First Nation of St’at’yem’c First Nation, took up the position as Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge and Learning. At the same time, she became the founding director of Indigenous Education at UVic. Williams drew on her close ties with the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) and extensive networks in Indigenous communities across BC. With these connections, she started several programs in Indigenous language revitalization.

In 2012, the first cohort in the Master in Indigenous Language Revitalization program started at UVic. Students studied under the leadership of Onowa McIvor, director of Indigenous Education. The program was a collaboration between the Faculties of Education and Humanities and it was BC's first graduate program in language revitalization. Every two years, a new cohort in the master’s program begin their studies.

The impact of UVic's Indigenous Language Revitalization programs

UVic’s Indigenous language revitalization programs have provided training for language teachers and learners, and inspired community activists, university and college professors, researchers, curriculum specialists and committed allies throughout Canada and around the world. They have opened up broad pathways for understanding the value and significance of Indigenous languages and cultures to the communities and places where people live, study and work.