The Ktunaxa language is traditionally spoken by the peoples of of the Ktunaxa Nation, which covers approximately 70,000 square kilometres within the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, and historically included parts of Alberta, Montana, Washington, and Idaho.
According to aqam.net, “The Ktunaxa language is an integral part of our identity as a nation and a community. It is known as a cultural isolate language – an exceptionally unique language unlike and unrelated to any other in the world – and it is critically endangered.”
Mara Nelson, is ʔaqⱡsmaknik (a Ktunaxa person), and she, along with Ktunaxa elder, Alfred Joseph, are leading courses this fall in the language.
Running September through December 2023, the courses are available via Zoom through the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network.
“CBEEN is the platform we use for the classes,” Nelson said. “They give us a wonderful venue.”
Nelson says that there are currently under 30 fluent speakers of the Ktunaxa language.
“Thankfully that number is rising,” she said.
One of the goals of the courses when they began in 2022 was to educate the educators that live and teach in Ktunaxa territory so that the language is present in every Ktunaxa classroom, but that has evolved.
“Originally it was to educate educators, but we realized we need business people, cashiers in our stores, those who work in libraries, to be comfortable in our greetings,” Nelson said. “Our goal is that anyone who call calls Ktunaxa home is comfortable with the language.
The 12-weeks of lessons cover greetings, common daily items, verb and noun work and, very importantly, sounds. The sounds are important, Nelson says, so the words in this very distinct language are pronounced properly.
“Each session we say the day, greetings, and then there is a unit of work.”
They are beyond pleased with the response the courses have received since the beginning, she says.
“Our goal was 45 students, we got 75 to 80 with a hunger to know this language. We started in November 2022 and have been running continuously.”
There are still a few spots available in this fall’s course. You can sign up here.
“It’s very important that residents know the language of the Ktunaxa people, so that we can greet each other with respect. The land is rooted with the language and culture,” Nelson said.
“We cannot reconcile without speaking the same words.”