Bill Ross wants to help save the ancient Hul’q’umi’num’ language from extinction.
Hul’q’umi’num’ is a Coast Salish language that has been spoken by First Nations on Vancouver Island, including those in the Cowichan Valley, since long before Europeans arrived in the area.
Ross told Duncan’s city council at its meeting on Feb. 20 that he would like to see the language rejuvenated by encouraging many in the general public to use at least some Hul’q’umi’num’ phrases on a daily basis. Ross said he decided to appear before council due to his responsibilities as an Elder to the Coast Salish youth within his own family.
He said there is an app currently available for cell phones on which people can learn the language, a few words at a time.
Ross said he would suggest just four expressions to begin with; “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “good morning” and “good day”.
He said the app has 12 additional Hul’q’umi’num’ words to choose from.
“Linguists often call for the whole community to get involved in these types of initiatives by using the language on a day-to-day basis,” Ross said. “Imagine using the very first words of the very first language of the first people of this land. This could bring national attention to the area and shine a spotlight on Duncan.”
Ross said he’d like to have the city sponsor an event in which a selected group of experts from Vancouver Island University would meet with leaders from a cross section of the community to consider different strategies to save Hul’q’umi’num’.
“I have not mentioned any calls to actions, nor will I,” Ross said.
“This is for council to decide as one government to another. What I’m talking about is the people of Duncan interacting with people [who speak Hul’q’umi’num’].”
Duncan mayor Phil Kent said council is considering what, if anything, it is prepared to do to assist Ross in his project.
He said a number of council members are already engaged in individual projects regarding First Nations, and some involve the preservation of the Hul’q’umi’num’ language.
“We also use phrases from the language in the city’s official ceremonies, and I’ve learned a few phrases myself,” Kent said.
“The local school district also has programs and courses on First Nations and the Hul’q’umi’num’ language. We’re currently digesting the information that was provided us in the presentation to determine if we have a role here.”