Sixty per cent of Canada’s First Nations languages are spoken in British Columbia—a total of 34, spread among seven language families and with 61 dialects. Like so many indigenous languages around the world, all of them are threatened, though the majority are still active means of communication for people across the province, and grassroots efforts are making a difference in many communities.
It’s the resilience and diversity of First Nations languages and speakers that inspired Our Living Languages, an exhibition at Victoria’s Royal B.C. Museum. Visitors enter the space through a forest of pillars welcoming them in every language, then explore the historical context and current status of this diverse group of tongues via video, audio, artwork and interactive exhibits, many of which celebrate the critical language revitalization efforts underway across the province.
“Hundreds of people work thousands of hours a year with little resources to transmit languages to the younger generations,” says cultural program coordinator Siemthlut (Michelle Washington) of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, a partner in the project. “This exhibition is about honouring and acknowledging the work of those people.”
Owner Mike Willie runs “boat-based cultural tours,” as well as water taxi and kayak transfer services, from his home base of Telegraph Cove on northern Vancouver Island. First Nations guides explain the culture, art, customs and history of the peoples of the region and bring guests to experience traditional songs and dances and watch artisans at work.
Expert First Nations guides from this family-owned business share stories of their traditional territory and take you close (but not too close) to resident orcas, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife. Headquartered in Sidney, half an hour from downtown Victoria and just minutes from the region’s airport and ferry terminal, the outfit operates every day from March to November, and sea kayaking lessons, tours and rentals are also available.