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New Indigenous language fluency degree first of its kind

New Indigenous language fluency degree first of its kind

March 29, 2021 at 11:23 am  BC, News, Politics

For the first time, students will be able to receive a new bachelor’s degree of Nsyilxcn language fluency offered by UBC Okanagan (UBCO), in partnership with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) and the En’owkin Centre in Penticton.

This will be the first bachelor’s degree of its kind in British Columbia. It will boost the number of fluent Nsyilxcn speakers at a time when Indigenous languages in B.C. are critically endangered.

“Congratulations to UBCO on this historic bachelor of Nsyilxcn language fluency degree, the first of its kind in B.C.,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “You have followed through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendation to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages. And now this pathway, starting at En’owkin Centre and NVIT and moving through to the degree at UBCO, could set the bar as a best-practice standard for developing Indigenous language fluency in the province, if not Canada.”

In a unique partnership, UBCO, NVIT and the En’owkin Centre have come together to offer the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency (BNLF) program. This is the first degree under a newly designed provincial framework for Indigenous language learning initiated by the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association (IAHLA). The framework was developed from a discussion paper prepared for FNESC and IAHLA by Jeannette Armstrong, a knowledge keeper of the Syilx Okanagan Nation and associate professor of Indigenous studies at UBCO.

“We hope to help foster a revitalization of the Nsyilxcn language in our communities and see it spread across all domains of community life,” Armstrong, who is the academic lead on the program at UBCO and vice-president of En’owkin Centre, said. “This is an important step in acting on Indigenous peoples’ rights to develop and transmit their languages, knowledge and oral traditions. UBCO and all of the program partners are at the cutting edge in making this breakthrough that will help advance cultural revitalization and positive change for Indigenous communities.”

Indigenous communities expressed the need for a community-based, Indigenous language degree that creates fluent graduates. The graduates can then continue their learning and work in education, social services, culture, tourism and resource-management positions.

The degree is intended to sustain and revitalize Nsyilxcn language traditions, restore language competence and protect the knowledge of Indigenous communities.

“It is a great honour that UBCO, together with the En’owkin Centre and NVIT, is home to the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency program — the first of its kind in Canada,” said Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal, UBCO. “This represents years of hard work and dedication from the many community partners involved. Leadership around the Indigenous Language Proficiency and Fluency Degree Framework and the investment from the B.C. government paved the way for this innovative program. My hope is that this will be the first of many more Indigenous language fluency degrees in the years to come.”

By blending classroom learning led by community language experts with work directly in communities, students participate in an immersive learning experience that emphasizes instruction in and through language.

“Language is our lifeline. It’s how we connect and tell our stories. It’s integral to our identity, survival and history,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. “Indigenous nations have been calling on governments to take action on article 16 of the TRC and create Indigenous language programs. Today is a historic moment and a shining example of reconciliation in action. This new degree is the start of a new legacy for generations to come.”

The collaboration between UBCO, NVIT and En’owkin Centre enable students to transfer the credits they earn at En’owkin and NVIT into the UBCO degree program. Students start the first two years earning a Nsyilxcn Language Diploma through NVIT, or they can take a college readiness program option through En’owkin Centre with accreditation from NVIT. Then students can transfer to UBCO for the final two years to earn their bachelor of Nsyilxcn language fluency degree. The program has been designed to meet entry requirements for other post-secondary programs, enabling students to pursue further studies upon completion of the degree.

While this is the first degree to be launched in B.C. under the new provincial framework, there are five more in the works with Lake Babine Nation (NVIT), Lillooet Tribal Council (NVIT), Nicola Bands (NVIT), Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a (University of Northern BC) and the Saanich Adult Education Centre (University of Victoria). The languages being taught will include Nsyilxcn, Nedut’en, Northern St’át’imcets, Nłeʔkepmxcín, Nisga’a and SENĆOŦEN.

The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training invested $2 million towards the Indigenous Language Proficiency/Fluency Degree Framework, providing a pathway for communities, Indigenous institutes and post-secondary institutions to collaboratively establish degree programs in Indigenous languages.

The first cohort of students will graduate from NVIT with an Nsyilxcn language diploma in July 2021. UBC Okanagan will then welcome the first incoming class of the BNLF in September 2021.


Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –

“The work that led to establishing this new degree is an excellent example of the type of collaborations required for reconciliation. This new degree builds on the work by dedicated individuals and organizations across the province to revitalize Indigenous languages. We must do everything we can to support and promote fluency as one of the foundations of Indigenous culture.”

Verna Billy Minnabarriet, vice-president of strategic partnerships, NVIT, and chair, IAHLA

“The approval and delivery of this degree builds on decades of hard work between Indigenous institutes and their partners to develop the relevant and responsive language programming needed to address the critical state of First Nations languages in B.C. and move toward true reconciliation. We look forward to leveraging the strengths of these partnerships in order to build the capacity of our institutes and instructors to meet the growing need for language instruction within our communities.”

Tyrone McNeil, president, First Nations Education Steering Committee

“Once again, En’owkin Centre is leading the way for our institutes and with this milestone is showing the potential of meaningful, reconciliatory partnerships between First Nations and public post-secondary institutions. I’m excited about the potential of this new fluency degree to support community efforts to strengthen and revitalize our languages, consistent with the vision set out in articles 13 and 14 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and our rights to transmit and teach our languages to future generations.”

Rose Caldwell, second-year student, NVIT Nsyilxcn language diploma

“It’s an honour to be part of the first cohort of students participating in this program. Like many in my family and community, I did not have opportunities to learn our language growing up because of the harm done by residential schools. Being able to rebuild that connection to our language fills me with tremendous pride and optimism. I hope to become the best possible teacher of Nsyilxcn so that I can share this gift with others in our community and nation, and help revitalize our language, culture and traditions for generations to come.” 

Quick Facts:

  • Nsyilxcn is an endangered language spoken throughout the land of the Syilx Okanagan Nation, which includes the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, Okanagan Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Upper Similkameen Indian Band and Westbank First Nation.
  • Throughout B.C., there are 34 different First Nations languages and at least 93 different dialects of those languages. In addition to First Nations languages, Michif, the language of the Métis people, is spoken here.
  • B.C.’s Indigenous languages make up more than 50% of the approximately 61 languages indigenous to Canada. There are seven distinct language families, completely unrelated to each other.
  • While more than half (52%) of fluent speakers are aged 65 and older, resulting in a decline, there are increasing numbers of young fluent speakers and language learners.

Learn More:

UBC Okanagan bachelor of Nsyilxcn language fluency: https://news.ubc.ca/2021/03/29/ubc-okanagan-bachelors-degree-of-indigenous-language-fluency/

Listen to the pronunciation of bachelor of Nsyilxcn (N-SEAL-ick-Chin) and Syilx (SEEL-a) Okanagan Nation: https://ccgs.ok.ubc.ca/undergraduate/nsyilxcn/

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