The first year of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 celebrates how technology supports language revitalization. A great example of this can be found right here in B.C. with St̓át̓imc grizzly bears and FirstVoices.
Community members from St̓át̓imc First Nation are using their Northern St̓át̓imcets language site on FirstVoices.com, in efforts to recover a critically endangered St̓alhálam population in the Stein-Nahatlatch region. FirstVoices language recorder Kitrina McDonald and St̓át̓imc Chiefs Council Lands and Heritage Manager Lenora Starr recently used the site as a resource to include their language in work to help restore the local St̓alhálam population.
The St̓alhálam population in the Stein-Nahatlatch region is critically endangered. Numbers are in steady decline due to a lack of genetic diversity and the impacts of climate change. St̓át̓imc Nation is collaborating with Nlaka’pamux, Sylix, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw and Secwémpemc Nations to develop a recovery plan that includes a DNA research project to monitor the i St̓alhálama (grizzly bears plural form) and their health.
A multi-phase, community-led recovery process is currently underway. The project includes translocation (the capture and release of animals into the wild to establish or re-establish a population) of two female i St̓alhálama to the region, from areas further north, to increase genetic diversity.
St̓át̓imc Grizzly Bears and FirstVoices
This is where the FPCC initiative FirstVoices comes in. Since 2003, this free open-source online platform has been providing First Nations with a tool to upload content to community-run language pages. Kitrina and Lenora used the database of words and phrases from the St̓át̓imcets language site to create a phrase list and prayer as part of their community’s St̓alhálam translocation project.
“As a language learner myself, I’m always looking on the FirstVoices site, and I thought, what else could we do with this?” says Kitrina. “I right away came up with a long list of over 250 phrases talking about grizzly bears and their seasonal activities, with the idea of establishing and following protocols for the relocation. We gave the list to one of our language speakers, Laura Grizzly Paws, who worked on it with an Elder.”
Like many FirstVoices users, Kitrina and Lenora were able to expand their language knowledge and apply what they learned to everyday situations. For example, Lenora saw an opportunity to create a St̓át̓imcets sLámcal (prayer) for the i St̓alhálama to be used in the bear recovery plan. The sLámcal was based on phrases Kitrina had worked on with the Elders. It is also a way to share the language with those involved from outside of the community.
“This prayer talks about thanking those cubs for their teachings, their patience, their knowledge and their guidance. The bears are healers and they showed us what to eat, where to go and when to harvest foods,” says Lenora. “We use that prayer at the beginning of all our meetings because it talks about the teachings from the bears. It talks about protecting their land and getting guidance from them.“
Language and I St̓alhálama
The Raincoast Conservation Society and multiple First Nations recently studied the DNA of grizzly bears in the central coast region of B.C. The study reveals a further connection to Indigenous languages. There are three distinct genetic groups of i St̓alhálama. Each aligns almost exactly with the boundaries of three First Nations language families.
The results of this research support the importance of the St̓át̓imc’s approach to integrating language into their work to honour i St̓alhálama in their territory.
“We’re going back to our agreement with the bears,” says Lenora. “To turn it around and start looking after the bears now. The language connects us to the land and the land connects us to those bears.”
The grizzly bear recovery plan is ongoing. This qapts (spring season), they expect to introduce the two female i St̓alhálama to the Stein-Nahatlatch region.
“The phrases from FirstVoices are key to the work we’re doing to bring the language and that connection to the table so that people remember it’s not just about population density or genetics,” says Lenora. “It’s so much more than that.”
We raise our hands to how Lenora, Kitrina and Art Adolph (SCC Director of Operations) are using their FirstVoices community language site for such important work.
There are many tools to support language revitalization, and technology is one aspect supported by FPCC through FirstVoices. We look forward to sharing more stories on the theme of language technology as we celebrate the first year of the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022–2032. We should all be proud of the amazing language work happening right here in B.C.!
FirstVoices.com includes community-led sites for 33 First Nations languages in B.C. and other languages around North America and in Australia. It is designed to support the documentation and sharing of the languages for future generations. FirstVoices is an FPCC initiative funded by the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation (FPCF), a First Nations-led registered charity that works to support the vitality of Indigenous languages, arts, culture and heritage in B.C. It is also funded by the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and the Department of Canadian Heritage. Click here to learn more about FirstVoices.com.
St̓át̓imcet words in this story were provided by the Northern St̓át̓imcet FirstVoices site.
Learn more about the FPCC Language Program.
Learn more about the Language Technology Program that funds FirstVoices projects in B.C.
Learn more about the Decade of Indigenous Languages and check out our other stories.
View the St̓át̓imc Nation Grizzly Bear Translocation Project video to hear the St̓alhálam sLámcal:
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