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Sm’algyax – A Language Not Forgotten

Sm’algyax – A Language Not Forgotten

May 4, 2016

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Most of us are very familiar with the native lands around our area and the various bands that live within the community. Often though, we know very little about this rich culture within our midst. That isn’t the case for Prince Rupert, BC.

Sm’algyax is the language of the Ts’msyen First Nation in Prince Rupert which has various dialects. These Sm’algyax dialects are all represented in the language program taught in all 6 elementary, one middle, one high school and one village school in SD52. It started with teaching K-4 in just 3 elementary schools, but soon the council, school and families wanted to know why it wasn’t offered in all of the schools. Teachers were on board as well as they noticed great uptake from the Grade 5 class if the students started learning the language from kindergarten. Soon all schools were included.

The language program has been offered in grades 5-12 for 17 years and even longer in the Aboriginal community in the surrounding villages. The language teachers are Sm’algyax certified classroom teachers and co-teach with Sm’algyax fluent teachers/elders.

“Our Sm’algyax language is the foundation of who we are. All students and Canadians should know the history of where they live,” explains Roberta Edzerza, District Principal for Aboriginal Education in School District 52 – Prince Rupert. “Our Aboriginal students take great pride in knowing their own language and it builds self-esteem as well as cognitive and literacy skills. It also creates a real sense of belonging.”

The language is taught for 45-90 minutes a week and includes play-based learning, songs and games and learning from the land. Students gain pride as they learn the language and the culture and often share their learning outside of school.

“As a parent I can say that both of my children, one in grade 6 and one in grade 11, are very pleased about correcting me on my language learning,” laughs Edzerza. “That’s where their pride comes in and they want to share their knowledge, even with their parents.”

A Sm’algyax committee was originally created to help revitalize, record and develop the language. One of the largest accomplishments was the creation of the Sm’algyax dictionary. With linguists on board and great support from the committee, the online dictionary was created, which also includes audio recordings to help with proper pronunciation. The Sm’algyax dictionary was just the beginning! After many years of hard work creating Sm’algyax resources, by the many trail blazers, the district now has a rich collection of resources that are shared with students, parents and the general community.

“We are now working on a Sm’algyax app,” explains Edzerza. “The main reason we’re able to create this is mostly due to the amazing support we get from the various departments both internally and government, plus support from the community, post-secondary schools and more.”

The app is expected to be released in the Fall in draft form, with the various dialects from other communities included. This can then be used by anyone, including the parents. With students now speaking the language at home, many adults were also interested in learning Sm’algyax. This opened the door for evening community classes.

“The uptake has been very good with two classes offered in different areas, once a week,” notes Edzerza. “The Sm’algyax Language Authority has really helped our team due to the knowledge and history they have around the language and culture. They guide with the bigger decisions and ensure that protocol is being followed and respected, and with programs like this within our community.”

The dedicated involvement from various groups truly allows the sacredness of this language to thrive.

“The program provides an opportunity to bring in culture and language together,” notes Edzerza. “Students truly get an understanding of who they are and how they fit in the puzzle. It provides identity which is the emotional part of the learning. The deeper connection to the language makes it more meaningful.”

To get a true feel for this beautiful language, check out the Sm’algyax dictionary and make sure to listen to the audio to hear the glottal stop and proper pronunciation.