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Qualicum First Nation celebrates reawakening of heritage language

Pentl’ach recognized as 35th First Nations language in B.C.
The Qualicum First Nation celebrates the recognition of pentl’ach as the 35th First Nations language in British Columbia. The team working on developing their traditional pentl’ach language, from left, Chief Michael Recalma, Mathew Andreatta, Lisa Recalma, Bill Recalma, Sarah Quinn, Tracie Finstad, Su Urbanczyk and Jessie Recalma. (Michael Briones photo)

Qualicum First Nation celebrated the reawakening of their native language, pentl’ach, at a gathering held at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre on Friday night (Nov. 17).

Chief Michael Recalma called it an exciting milestone, following a long and difficult process. The pentl’ach language, Recalma said, is a significant and important component of the Qualicum First Nation’s culture and a reflection and value of their identity.

“The first thing is of course, it means we’re not extinct,” said Recalma.

“The language isn’t extinct. We’re here, we’re alive, we’re well. We are relearning the language from documentation. It’s vitally important. It proves we exist.”

The last member of the Qualicum First Nation community who was well-versed in the language passed away in the 1940s and at that time it was considered extinct.

It was heartbreaking for the community to learn their heritage language was deemed extinct and no longer significant. But they fought to revive the language.

Through the assistance of the First People’s Cultural Council (FPCC), in collaboration with linguists from the University of Victoria and members from Qualicum First Nation, the pentl’ach language has been reawakened.

READ MORE: ‘Our language is still here:’ Revitalizing Indigenous languages in the North

“That terminology being extinct has been really harmful in so many ways to the pentl’ach culture and to the community Qualicum First Nation who called that as their heritage language,” said Aliana Parker, language programs director of the FPCC. “Over the years they pulled together and began to do the work of really reviving the language, which involves gathering of materials that have been documented about the language from various linguists and anthropologists over time and beginning to relearn that language and to begin teach it to the community.”

Parker said the FPCC is pleased to have changed the status of the language from “sleeping” to now become the 35th First Nations language in British Columbia.

There were still some who spoke the language such as Bill Recalma, one of the elders in the Qualicum First Nation community, who has shared the knowledge he learned from his great uncle Alfred. He has been teaching the language to his son Jessie, one of the language workers of the community.

Chief Recalma said it is a long process to learn but he looks positively at what it presents to the community in the future.

“The reawakening, it gives the next generation a chance to learn it,” said Michael. “It’s a reawakening of identification. Some identification of who we are. It’s our world.”

Jessie said without enough historical documents and materials to draw from, it will take years before an educational foundation of the language is established that the community can learn from. He said they are gathering any information they can dig up about the traditional language, referring to different archives from museums in Canada and the United States, talking to elders from within the community and also to neighbouring First Nations groups and to historians.

“We’re still learning as we go forward,” said Jessie. “It’s a slow process. I can speak the language but I can’t really say I’m fluent yet. It will take some time.”

Michael Briones

About the Author: Michael Briones

I rejoined the PQB News team in April 2017 from the Comox Valley Echo, having previously covered sports for The NEWS in 1997.
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