Sunday, April 21, 2024

Brentwood Bay-based initiative a world leader in Indigenous language revitalization


A new website just launched for FirstVoices, an initiative run by the First People’s Cultural Council which is based in Brentwood Bay.

The mission of this initiative is to put together a complete and robust open-source database for BC-based Indigenous languages. 

Originally conceptualized in 1999 by two teachers from Vancouver Island—one of whom was an elder seeking to revitalize the Tsartlip Nation’s language of SENĆOŦEN—the initiative has come to fruition on February 20th, International Mother Languages Day. 

Bridget Chase, the Development Manager for FirstVoices says that by working with community language teams from First Nations throughout the province, they have been able to put together an ever-growing database of words, phrases, stories and songs for people to access freely. 

“We are committed to providing the technology of FirstVoices, but all of the language content that you find on the platform, that is all developed and curated by community language champions from those respective language groups around BC,” Chase told Victoria Buzz. 

Chase says that First Nations people have the right to control and own their languages and that their language is a birthright.

“FirstVoices is a technology that can be used to support language learning and cultural immersion,” they said.

“It is used by language learners in and out of communities and by learners of all ages, both elders and youths.”

This tool was created to be an easy, accessible way for those in both in and out of classrooms.

“At the end of the day, FirstVoices is an open-source, free to use platform and the intention is to really invest in the long-term technology so that communities have a safe accessible space to put language materials online for learners around the province.”

Although the initiative was launched in 2003, with the SENĆOŦEN language and then began to grow and it was realized this tool could become so much more by providing access to all First Nations’ languages in BC.

“Over the last 20 years, FirstVoices has grown from being just for the SENĆOŦEN language, to representing 33 of the 35 BC First Nations’ languages,” said Chase.

“Really, the foundation has been the same since the beginning, which is that we have been building a tool that is really world-renowned and cutting edge when it comes to being able to accurately share First Nations’ languages because technology is really English dominated,” they continued. 

Through the years since its launch, Chase and the development team have worked hard at upgrading the software and improving access through new features. 

The latest rendition of the platform includes an interactive map, showing the traditional boundaries of BC First Nations as well as a handful of games that make the learning a bit more fun. 

The map also allows for people to pinpoint points of interest for their Nations and communities, which allows for their people’s stories to be given some context in their whereabouts. 

With the games, people who use FirstVoices have the opportunity to play a version of the popular game Wordle, called Wordsy, which uses words from different BC First Nations. 

There is also a game called Phrase Scambler where players put together a phrase and one more called Pull Together where you can listen to a word, then try to spell it using First Nations languages. 

Chase says the First People’s Cultural Council is really trying to make this project a long-term investment in language revitalization by making this technology really state-of-the-art.

“Most importantly, we want First Nations’ communities to maintain access to, and control of their languages for free,” they explained. 

“We are very hopeful for the future and seeing how it all grows.”

Curtis Blandy

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