The Nuxalk Nation has undertaken another project to revive and encourage the day-to-day use of the Nuxalk language: stop signs. The signs, reading “Tsayalhx,” will replace all of the English stop signs on reserve.
“The government forced us to speak English,” said Culturalist Clyde Tallio, speaking to a group of Nuxalk youth during the unveiling of the signs. “You guys will be the last generation to have witnessed fluent speakers; elders who speak our language. If we don’t learn our language it’s gone. A ten thousand year old language is gone. This is the only place in the world this language is spoken, it’s one of the oldest languages in the world and it’s up to us to learn it and speak it.”
It’s estimated that right now there are only five fluent Nuxalk speakers left. This is huge reduction in numbers since Tallio started to learn the language over 15 years ago, when there were over two dozen speakers. All over the country traditional speakers are passing away, and this is keenly felt right here in Nuxalk territory.
“When I was going to school people would say, “why are you learning Nuxalk, it’s never going to get you anywhere in life,”” Tallio shared. “But it’s gotten me everywhere in life, because I know who I am.”
B.C. has 34 unique Indigenous languages and over 90 dialects, making up 60 per cent of all First Nations languages in Canada. This rich linguistic diversity was badly damaged by past colonial policies and, today, fewer than 6,000 people speak one of the province’s 34 Indigenous languages.
In April of this year the provincial government committed $50M to revitalize Indigenous languages in B.C., which is being administered through the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. The council has been able to offer more language revitalization support, such as 167 language grants and more training opportunities, involving 475 people.
They are also set to launch Reclaiming My Language: A Course for Silent Speakers, which is designed for people who understand but don’t speak their language.
“We need to put our language everywhere,” said Tallio. “Everywhere that we think is a normal part of our life, the language needs to be there.”
The signs, which were coordinated by Evangeline Hanuse and funded by WKNTC and the Nuxalk Nation, are going to be put up on reserve in 4-Mile and downtown. There are a total of 37 to go up, and they will be erected by the Nation with help from Acwalscta students.
“It’s not just a stop sign, it’s much more than that,” said Tallio. “This is making our language our authority again.”