January 28, 2019, Vancouver, B.C. – In recognition of the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, which officially launched earlier today in Paris, the First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF) has announced the commissioning of a Language Revitalization Pole to draw attention to the importance of Indigenous language and culture in Canada. The Language Revitalization Pole will be carved by renowned Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul – part of the Hesquiaht Tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations – and has received the patronage of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
When it is completed, the Language Revitalization Pole will be gifted to the University of Victoria where it will stand, with the blessing and support of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, in recognition of the University’s leadership in Language Revitalization and Indigenous Studies.
The stories and themes carver Tim Paul has selected to be featured on the pole honour ten relatives of the Nuu-chah-nulth people: sky, sun, moon, mountains, rivers, lakes, land, sea, wind, and stars. There is also an eleventh relative that will be depicted on the pole: earthquake, which is sent to teach humility and remind human beings of the all-encompassing power of the Creator.
“Oral history, songs, dances, ceremony, and art were – and continue to be – the vehicle for transmitting history, knowledge, and sovereign rights from generation to generation,” said Tim Paul. “Through storytelling we are also reminded of our family ties to neighbouring tribes and Nations. When we use our language, it is not just another way of saying something; the principles of our culture are embedded in the language and many words simply cannot be translated. It is only by understanding our language that we can unlock the most important values, principles, and concepts of who we are.”
Les Doiron, the volunteer chief executive officer of FNEF and elected President of the Yuułuʔiłʔath Government (the Ucluelet First Nation), says carving the Language Revitalization Pole will not only bring attention to the threats facing Indigenous languages, but will also create content for the innovative language revitalization pilot project currently underway in the Yuułuʔiłʔath community where the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-chah-nulth language is at imminent risk of becoming extinct: At present there are fewer than seven Elder fluent speakers from the Ucluelet First Nation who still speak this dialect.
“This pole will not only raise awareness of the threats facing Indigenous languages in Canada and around the world, it will also draw attention to the urgent need to advance reconciliation and healing by supporting Indigenous peoples and communities in their efforts to preserve and promote their languages and cultures through innovative solutions,” said Doiron.
Two months ago, in early December of last year, and with the blessing of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Master Carver Tim Paul, along with Port Alberni Carver George Nookimus, FNEF Executive Director Scott Jeary, and several others toured the Huu-ay-aht Treaty Settlement Lands and Western Forest Products TFL 44 areas to evaluate the condition of potential carving logs for the Language Revitalization Pole. They were able to locate an ancient cedar tree – estimated to be approximately 800 years old – that fell naturally during a windstorm blowdown event around 50 to 70 years ago on what is now Huu-ay-aht Treaty Settlement Lands. Western Forest Products will assist with the transport of the log to the carving site in Port Alberni now that a thorough inspection by Tim Paul has confirmed the log’s integrity.
As carving begins, documentary cameras led by filmmaker Dale Devost will follow the entire process – with the footage to be used later in education tool kits for distribution to the 11,000 UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet) in over 180 countries and as content for language lessons on the FNEF platform.
Fundraising efforts are currently underway to support the pole project and the Ucluelet First Nation Nuu-chah-nulth, Barkley dialect, language revitalization pilot project. The estimated cost of the Indigenous Language Revitalization Pole and pilot project is pegged at $1 million, with a project budget breakdown of $150,000 for carving (students, guest carvers, tools, location costs), $100,000 for logistics (tree, transportation, staging, raising, etc.), $650,000 to complete the Nuu-chah-nulth Language Preservation Pilot Project and expand it to include the other 13 Nuu-chah-nulth nations, communities, and dialects, and $100,000 for a documentary, ceremony, and promotion.
In addition to the patronage of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the project has received support from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Western Forest Products, the University of Victoria, the Royal BC Museum, BC Chamber of Commerce, Museum of Vancouver, RBC, Teck, Intefor, AME, TimberWest, and several other organizations and individuals and First Nations.
In addition to the Ucluelet First Nation, FNEF is in discussion with the Haisla Nation in Kitimat and other First Nations in Canada who have asked how FNEF can help with their language revitalization efforts.
As background: There are 34 Indigenous languages represented in the province of British Columbia which make up over two thirds of the Indigenous languages spoken in Canada.
Worldwide, there are 7,000 languages representing 5,000 different cultures. The overwhelming majority of these languages are spoken by 370 million Indigenous people in over 90 countries. A great majority of these Indigenous languages are disappearing, and at an alarming rate.
In Canada, there are approximately 60 Indigenous languages, each with unique dialects, histories, and cultural traditions. Alarmingly, almost three-quarters of these languages are at risk of being lost within this generation. If these languages become extinct, Indigenous nations risk losing their cultural identities forever.
Additional background information about FNEF, Master Carver Tim Paul, FNEF CEO Les Doiron, and Filmmaker Dale Devost is appended at that end of this media release.
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FNEF collaborates with First Nations governments to develop language revitalization programs for at-risk Indigenous dialects using contemporary educational practices and innovative, interactive technology. With a language revitalization pilot project currently underway in partnership with the Yuułuʔiłʔath First Nation, FNEF seeks to raise awareness about the state of Aboriginal languages in North America.
About Master Carver Tim Paul
Tim Paul was born into the house ʔaʔiiḥtaqumłʔatḥ, part of the Hesquiaht Tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. In his early days he was taught and nurtured by family elders in accordance with ancient principles of family cultural teachings, but like all Aboriginal children of his generation was removed from his family home and taken to an Indian Residential School where he was forbidden to speak his language, practice his culture, and worse. He relied heavily on his cultural education in his healing and began carving in 1975. He went on to produce prints, silkscreen designs, masks, sculptures and ceremonial paraphernalia as well as poles.
As one of Canada’s preeminent artists, his work can be seen all over the world, including at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, in Exeter, England, on the grounds of Stanley Park in Vancouver, at the Vancouver International Airport, and most notably in Auckland, New Zealand where his Nuu-chah-nulth-style pole was given by the People of British Columbia to the city of Auckland in celebration of the 1990 Commonwealth Games. In addition to carving, Tim Paul has developed cultural curriculum for the Port Alberni School Board and held positions at the Royal BC Museum. He has also been the subject of several documentary films about his life and works and was awarded the BC Creative Achievement Award for First Nations Art in 2010.
About FNEF CEO Les Doiron
Les Doiron is a citizen and the elected President of the Yuułuʔiłʔath Government (the Ucluelet First Nation). He represents the Yuułuʔiłʔath to local, provincial and federal governments, other First Nations and indigenous organizations – nationally and internationally. A community minded, goal-oriented professional, Les is passionate about giving back to his community and has shared much of his life with many individuals, on a professional and volunteer basis, alike. In conjunction with FNEF volunteer Board President Rhonda Knockwood, he was instrumental in the formation of FNEF and the development of FNEF’s language revitalization projects and strategies; in particular, helping to establish the Nuu-chah-nulth (Barkley dialect) pilot project within the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government.
About Filmmaker Dale Devost
Dale Devost has been behind a camera for over 30 years. His programs have been broadcast on CBC, APTN, and Knowledge Network and he has produced numerous documentaries including two projects that feature master carver Tim Paul: Dr. George Clutesi Curriculum Project and New Moon a Gift for the Spirit. Devost has been running his own production company out of his home on Hornby Island since 1985, with a focus on telling stories of cross-cultural understanding, arts, and the environment.
About the University of Victoria
UVic is one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities, offering life-changing, hands-on learning experiences to more than 21,000 students on the edge of the spectacular BC coast. UVic faculty, staff, and students make a critical difference on issues that matter to people, places and the planet. From language revitalization to Indigenous law, UVic researchers are working with Indigenous communities and organizations in Canada and around the world to understand, preserve and celebrate Indigenous traditions and cultures. Find out more at uvic.ca and Territory acknowledgement
About the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and FNEF
The Canadian Commission for UNESCO serves as a bridge between Canadians and the vital work of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. By promoting UNESCO values, priorities and programs in Canada and by bringing the voices of Canadian experts to the international stage, the Commission contributes to a peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future that leaves no one behind.
Link to letter of patronage from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO