History of Indigenous language revitalization at UVic

UVic offers and supports a wide range of research projects, academic courses, field schools and other learning and teaching opportunities in Indigenous education, Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous language revitalization.

UVic Indigenous language programs in the ‘70s

In the 1970s, UVic had one of the only programs of its kind at the time. Our faculty provided early training in linguistics and language teaching for speakers of Indigenous languages.

The Native Indian Language Diploma program and Native Indian Language Teacher Training program, offered by the Department of Linguistics and Faculty of Education, prepared individuals to be consultants, curriculum developers and instructors at schools and communities in BC and the Yukon.

Graduates of these programs have gone on to be leaders in their communities’ language revitalization efforts, and have been recognized with the Order of Canada and honorary doctorates for their work. Some continue to be actively involved in these efforts 40 or more years later.

Teaching, learning and research within communities in partnership

In 2002, the Developmental Standard Term Certificate was first offered in the Campbell River area through a partnership between the two faculties at UVic. This led to the development of a Diploma and Bachelor of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization, which were approved in 2010 and immediately delivered to Vancouver Island communities in community-based contexts.

The Coast Salish Language Revitalization CURA Project, officially launched in 2003, involved a partnership between two organizations representing 10 First Nations communities, two crown corporations and our university.

Intensive immersion courses for language learners

Beginning in 2005, the Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization (CALR) program has offered intensive immersion courses in Penticton and at UVic, and then at locations across Canada in various community settings. The program involves the Department of Linguistics and the Division of Continuing Studies at UVic and the En'owkin Centre, an Indigenous cultural, educational and creative arts institution located in the Okanagan Nation, as well as many other partnerships over the years. These partners have included the Quuquuatsa Language Society on Vancouver Island, Nunavut Arctic College in Cambridge Bay and the Chisasibi Heritage and Cultural Centre in the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, Quebec.

CALR students are from diverse communities, with a variety of professional and educational backgrounds. They range in age from new high school graduates to Elders. While contexts and community priorities differ, they share a similar vision to participate in or initiate revitalization efforts in their own communities.

CALR students have worked passionately to revitalize the following languages:

  • Inuinnaqtun
  • Nuu-chah-nulth
  • Tłı̨chǫ
  • North Slavey
  • South Slavey
  • Chipewyan
  • Inuvialuktun
  • Gwich’in
  • Kanienkehaka (Mohawk)
  • Eastern James Bay Cree

By 2015, UVic responded to community partners’ requests for more proficiency-building opportunities. To create new adult speakers, the Diploma in Indigenous Language Revitalization was broadened with increased language learning courses, at the same time maintaining options through the CALR program, and laddering into the Bachelor of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization.

The first graduate program in language revitalization in BC

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

In the intervening years, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC)—a provincial Crown Corporation formed in 1990 and based in Tsartlip First Nation—released reports in 2010, 2014 and 2018 on the Status of BC First Nations Languages, outlining the challenges and successes of revitalizing Indigenous languages.

In this context, in the mid-2000s, Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams, a member of the Lil’wat First Nation of Mount Currie, took up positions as Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge and Learning and founding director of Indigenous Education at UVic. Williams, drawing on her close ties with FPCC and extensive networks in Indigenous communities across BC, initiated several joint programs in Indigenous language revitalization.

In 2012, under the leadership of Onowa McIvor as director of Indigenous Education, the first cohort in the Master’s in Indigenous Language Revitalization program started at UVic. A collaboration between the Faculties of Education and Humanities, it is the first graduate program in language revitalization in the province.

Every two years since, new cohorts in the master’s program have begun their studies and attained their higher degrees, in so doing developing their understanding as engaged scholars and leaders in their communities.

The impact of UVic's Indigenous Language Revitalization programs

In their longevity and vitality, UVic’s programs in Indigenous language revitalization have touched hundreds and thousands of people in BC, Canada, and internationally.

Through the depth of their history, these programs have created language teachers and learners, community activists, university and college professors, researchers, curriculum specialists and committed allies. They have opened up broad pathways for understanding the value and significance of Indigenous languages and cultures to all of the places where people live, study and work.