Sunday, April 21, 2024

Vancouver Island First Nation succeeds in ‘reawakening’ their ancestral language


t’i xwey kwems sqwalten “our language is awake,” says the Qualicum First Nation.  

In the unceded territory of the Qualicum First Nation, a People rejoice as they are recognized for their success in reawakening their ancestors language, pentl’ach.

pentl’ach has been considered a ‘sleeping language’ since the 1940s after Indigenous youth who spoke the language were stripped of it along with many cultural practices in the residential school system. 

“pentl’ach is a vital part of our culture and our identity,” said Chief Michael Recalma, Qualicum First Nation. 

“For our people, pentl’ach has always been a part of us, but this recognition is an exciting milestone on a long journey to reestablish pentl’ach as a living language in our community.”

Despite this hardship, now, pentl’ach has been officially recognized by the Province as the 35th First Nations language in BC. 

The Qualicum First Nation has been working diligently to restore their language since 2017 and have found success through archival research, community engagement and creating partnerships with UVic as well as several governing bodies.

A language team was put together with funding and support from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) and the Province.

“I lift my hands high to the Qualicum First Nation, for their dedication and strength as they reawaken the pentl’ach language,” said Dr. Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams, Chair of the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation.  


First, the language team established a writing system for pentl’ach, then they got to work creating a multi-year language restoration plan.

Their plan included establishing the current state of the language, developing a project timeline, engaging with the community and creating an inventory of available materials that could be referenced later in their work. 

The FPCC hopes that this model can be later used as a reference point for other First Nations seeking to restore their own language. 

“I am also grateful to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and Foundation, and the University of Victoria for their working partnership with the Qualicum people through uplifting this important work done by the community,” said Dr. Williams. 

“This news gives me great excitement and hope for other sleeping languages across Turtle Island and beyond.”

Curtis Blandy

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