Voices in the Wind: The Quest to Keep Endangered Indigenous Languages Alive

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“Kw’om kw’em ye sasq’ets loy o ye olu stl’is iyolem kw’etslexw.”

Ask a linguist to translate the above line into English and you’ll likely be met with a puzzled look. Not only will they struggle with the pronunciation, chances are they won’t even know what language they’re dealing with.

That’s because currently there’s only one woman who knows the original nuances of this endangered tongue. Her name is Elizabeth Phillips and for the past decade she’s been struggling to keep the language of her ancestors alive. A resident of Seabird Island, Phillips is one of the last fluent speakers of upriver Halq'eméylem, a language of the First Nations peoples of southeastern Vancouver Island and the Fraser River Delta.

Luckily, she’s about to get a little help from some new friends at Rival Schools.

That’s because Rival Schools, together with Loud Crow Interactive, is about to release an interactive digital story app that’s written in the language. The second story in the Bramble Berry Tales series, The Great Sasquatch is fully localized in English, French, Spanish and Halq’eméylem, exposing a whole new generation of readers to the written and spoken words of this ancient dialectal.

In-App Language Features

The following is a short video that highlights some of the language features in The Great Sasquatch digital story app. This includes an internal English to Halq’eméylem dictionary, as well as a full translation of the text in the Halq’eméylem language.

A Language Forgotten

A member of the Central Salish branch of the Salishan language classification, Halq’eméylem (or Halkomelem in English) has been teetering dangerously on the edge of extinction for more than forty years. In 2000, it was estimated that the number of fluent Halq’eméylem speakers was less than one dozen. As English-speaking settlers flooded into the Fraser River Delta during the mid-nineteenth century interest in the language was all but extinguished.

In recent years a number of native groups have made an effort to revive the language (programs have been developed by the Sto:lo Nation, Seabird Island First Nation, and Cowichan First Nation). In addition, a new generation of linguistic enthusiasts have recently surfaced and expressed an interest in Halq’eméylem. Amongst them is the team of designers from Rival Schools.

Spurred on by the overwhelming response to the first Bramble Berry Tales release, which featured a fully localized reading in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) language, the Rival Schools team can’t wait to see what people think of their latest creation.

Roy Husada Speech Bubble“The great thing about this digital story is that it appeals to a wide range of audiences – many of which would have never even been aware of the existence of the Halq’eméylem language. In that sense, The Great Sasquatch is already a huge success.”

– Roy Husada, Principal at Rival Schools

Interested in learning more about the Halq’eméylem language? Then check out the Halq’eméylem bilingual dictionary and phrase collection application for iOS devices. Developed by the First Peoples’ Heritage Language and Culture Council, this is

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a media rich app comprised of words and phrases archived at the online Aboriginal language database FirstVoices.com.

More advanced learners may wish to enroll in a the Sto:lo Nation supported Shxweli Language Program. The program, whose vision is to ensure the future of the Halq’eméylem language, is geared towards Indigenous language and culture teachers with a detailed background in linguistic studies. Courses are taught by Sto:lo Elders through a partnership program with the University College of the Fraser Valley & Simon Fraser University education department and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) in Merritt and Burnaby.

And don’t forget to download The Great Sasquatch when it comes out later this month. For more details on the release story sneak-peeks, check out the official Bramble Berry Tales website.

(Oh, and about that opening sentence… it’s actually a line from The Great Sasquatch. As for its meaning? You’ll have to download the app next week to find out!)

Bramble Berry Tales - The Great Sasquatch

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