Indigenous languages are vanishing, and a conference held in B.C.'s capital this week is gathering experts from around the world to figure out how to preserve them.

The three-day HELISET TŦE SḰÁL (ha-LEE-sut-te-skwayl) Let the Languages Live 2019 International Conference brings attention to the issues facing Indigenous languages globally.

Around the world, Indigenous languages continue to disappear at an alarming rate. More than one-third of an estimated 6,700 languages spoken throughout the world are under threat of being lost. The majority of the loss is to Indigenous languages which also places the culture to which they belong at risk.

British Columbia is home to more 34 unique Indigenous languages. B.C. represents more than half of all Indigenous languages in Canada. Despite B.C.’s rich diversity of Indigenous languages, less than 4,200 First Nations people in the province consider themselves to be fluent in their ancestral language. 

"Language is foundational to Indigenous peoples’ self-determination in Canada and around the world. Too many of our languages are in danger of disappearing, but we know that when countries, such as Canada, uphold Indigenous languages their likelihood of survival increases," said Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

"The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes our right to speak, teach and revitalize our languages, and nation states must take effective measures to support Indigenous language champions and experts in this work."

The United Nations declared 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages. The goal of the declaration is to raise awareness about the current state of Indigenous languages across the globe. The hope is to highlight the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote national and international actions to protect indigenous language. 

conference first nation languages

"This conference is bringing Indigenous people together to tell their stories about their languages and how they are keeping them alive," said Dr. Lorna Wanosts'a7 Williams, Professor Emerita of Indigenous Education at the University of Victoria.

"It is our hope that delegates will be inspired by the many people they meet from around the world who are doing this work and reaffirm that we are together, that we can learn from one another, work in partnership and support one another to ensure the survival of our languages."

The conference highlights the successful strategies developed in B.C that are making the reclamation of Indigenous languages possible. British Columbia is considered to be a leader in the revitalization of Indigenous languages in Canada and around the world.

"Gatherings like this are essential so we can learn and share the wise practices taking place globally. This joint work is essential as we all move forward," said Bellegarde.

The HELISET TŦE SḰÁL – Let the Languages Live conference offers workshops on a host of topics key to indigenous language reclamation. Some of the workshops will be focused on training in language immersion, and language revitalization storytelling. 

"We can learn from one another, work in partnership and support one another to ensure the survival of our languages,” said Wanosts'a7 Williams. 

The conference is co-hosted by the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation (FPCF) and the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC), in partnership with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. The conference is being held from June 24 to 26 at the Victoria Conference Centre.