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Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages
A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)

The First Peoples Cultural Council has launched an online map detailing over 360 individual Indigenous artists and cultural groups, and 34 Indigenous languages across British Columbia.

The initiative is a first of its kind consolidation that is vital for what some are calling the urgent mission of retaining B.C.’s Indigenous languages.

Through the First Peoples Map at, visitors can “hear greetings and pronunciations of place names, find local Indigenous artists and public art, search important landmarks and cultural centres, explore cultural information, videos, images, and more,” said council communications officer Mike Tod.

The map’s monumental amount of content was created and contributed entirely by First Nations community members.

An example of a profile available for Indigenous artists on the First Peoples' Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)

Council special advisor and Anishinabe First Nation member Cathi Charles Wherry from North Saanich explained that Indigenous artists can create and pin their own profiles to the map, view ongoing language or artistic projects and improve their networks by connecting with each other.

Wherry said the goal of the map is to better collect and present connections between Indigenous language, land and culture.

If an Indigenous youth wanted to make traditional grass woven baskets, for example, “they need to collect their materials at a certain time of year in a certain way … there’s a language that gets spoken (which) reflects deep relationships of place, plants, season and science,” she said. “They’re not just labels that can replace English, and English can’t replace our Indigenous languages.”

The idea of the map began from consultations with Indigenous language and culture experts dating back to 2008 and involved several web developers over those years. The resulting consolidation of language, artistic and cultural resources creates a “shared context that more accurately reflects how those facets interact with each other in real life, in real communities for real people,” Wherry said.

“Language, arts and culture are very much intertwined. Our hope in doing this amalgamated map is that it better reflects that reality.”

READ ALSO: 60 per cent of all Canadian Indigenous languages are in BC

BC Wildfire Service and health care workers have already reported the map to be instrumental. Prince George nurse Kim MacLean said she consulted the map to learn proper pronunciation and greetings before making calls for COVID-19 contact tracing. “It helped me have respectful conversations with individuals we serve. This was also an excellent reference to verify the correct spelling for community names,” she said.

The task of preserving Indigenous language is an urgent one, Wherry said. Only three per cent of respondents to the council’s 2018 Status of B.C. First Nations Languages report claimed fluency in an Indigenous language, despite over half (51.9 per cent) being over age 65.

Another metric from the report provided the total number of active learners in Vancouver Island’s three Indigenous language dialects – Hul’q’umi’num’ (1,238), Kwak̓wala (763) and Senćoten (503).

READ ALSO: Canada’s first Indigenous language degree to be offered at UBC Okanagan

Wherry said the council’s efforts to preserve Indigenous languages need to be supported in an “ongoing and stable way,” rather than them having to continually “knock on the door.” The council receives the majority of its funding through fundraising, much of which goes directly back to First Nations, she said.

“We really need the resources to support (elders) passing on knowledge to future generations. It’s an ongoing challenge to have the resources to keep these entities going.”

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