Efforts to keep the Shuswap language alive have been ongoing in 100 Mile House this month, as the Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre and Murray Casey team up to teach an introductory course through the month of June.
“I was just talking to Rob [Diether] at the Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre for a while, and being a teacher, I was hoping to get the language opened up to more people, especially in 100 Mile,” said Casey, who is also a director at the friendship centre.
Casey estimated that each of the 17 Shuswap Bands probably only has one to four speakers left in their respective communities, including Canim Lake.
“It’s very small,” he said of the population of speakers. “The elders are the ones that are going. My grandfather actually – him and I used to speak together but now he’s gone. He’s been gone for three years and now I don’t have anyone to speak with, so it’s nice to be able to share with other people in the community that might be interested.”
At the June 5th class, Casey said there were five people who came out to the workshop, surpassing his expectations. He also mentioned three other people were interested, including an elementary school-aged student and his mother. He said there could potentially be more interest.
“I think so, to a point there has been. The thing is many of our Canim Lake people don’t have transportation or whatever to get into town to deal with that stuff. They have their elders up there, so hopefully, those elders will continue to do programs outside of 100 Mile.”
Most of the people who have attended the class are between the ages of 40 and 60, Casey said.
Specifically mentioning the aforementioned kid, Casey said it was good to see interest in a youngster. Looking back, he said, he wished he put more effort into learning the Secwepemc language. Only describing himself as an ‘intermediate-level’ speaker, he said he could be further ahead. Sometimes he still gets stumped and affirmed he learns something new every time he teaches.
“If you don’t know the language, it’s pretty tough. It’s the sounds that get you,” he said of the language’s alphabet, which has 46 characters, mixing the English alphabet’s 26 letters with numbers. “You would think it’s pretty simple, but it’s not.”
For example, in English two ‘L’s together, such as ‘travelling’ sound like a drawn-out ‘L.’ In Secwepemc, ‘ll’ sounds like a ‘th.’
Casey said it takes adults three or more times longer than a child to remember a word in Secwepemc.
Casey and the Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre do not receive any sort of government funding for this workshop. It is just a volunteer position for the teacher, giving him a way to share his knowledge of the language, though he did admit it would be nice to find some funding because he said it would greatly benefit the community. He added that there are no teachers anymore at the school level in 100 Mile House, at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School or the elementary school. He said Williams Lake has two or three.
“I think it’s a critical part of keeping our culture alive. Once your language is lost you have nothing – the songs go, the drumming songs go, the traditional ceremonies start disappearing. If we don’t continue learning the language and passing it on it’s going to go extinct.”
Two of the classes have already passed, but the third one is on June 19 and during the community’s Art Crawl, Casey will also conduct an introductory class.
The June 19 class begins at 6:30 p.m. and goes until 8 p.m. The Art Crawl class will be on June 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Casey is hoping to have another introduction course in September or sometime in the fall.
“I think it’s important to recognize being on traditional Shuswap territory. This is the language spoken here for thousands of years.”