New initiative launched to save Squamish language

New initiative launched to save Squamish language


VANCOUVER — Seven years ago, the Squamish language was on the brink of extinction. There were fewer than 10 fluent speakers and those who could speak were dying each year. Today, a not-for-profit organization from the Squamish Nation community is partnering with Simon Fraser University together to launch a two-year full-time adult immersion program for the Squamish Language.

It is now accepting applicants for the 2016-2017 program.

The adult immersion program is modeled after similar Indigenous language programs in Canada and New Zealand. Each year, 15 students will complete 1,000 classroom hours taught exclusively in the Squamish Language from September to April with two lead instructors and fluent guest speakers.

Squamish Nation member, Khelsilem, is the Program Director and the founder of the non-profit Kwi Awt Stelmexw that started the development of this program. Khelsilem describes its origins: “I started by running volunteer language nights in my father’s home five years ago with only a handful of people. And these grew to 10, 20, and more coming on a regular basis. There is a growing hunger among our peoples for their language”.

The goal is to produce fifteen adult speakers of the Squamish language every year, growing the number of speakers from seven in 2017 to at least one hundred fifty seven by the year 2027. Professor Marianne Ignace, the Director of SFU’s First Nations Language Centre, noted, “We are very excited to be partnering with Kwi Awt Stelmexw and Squamish Nation to offer our Certificate Program in First Nations Language Proficiency through this initiative. The talents and enterprise that this group is mobilizing, and their approach to language revitalization are truly exceptional.”

Kwi Awt Stelmexw will host a special gala on March 11, 2016 to raise funds for a scholarship for students of our program. The gala will be at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre, and will feature keynote speaker Hana O’Regan, a Maori language educator and activist from New Zealand. More of Kwi Awt Stelmexw’s work is available online at and by checking out the hashtag #100DaysofSḵwx̱wú7mesh on social media.

Quick facts

  • The immersion program will be offered in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s First Nations Language Centre and Department of Linguistics as an accredited Certificate Program through SFU*.
  • The program will include 1000 classroom hours of immersion instruction, completed over eight months, each year.
  • Up to 15 students will participate each year, working with two full-time instructors.
  • Year 1 starts in September 2016.
  • Prospective participants must apply to be selected for the program.
  • Application are now being accepted until March 18th, 2016 at 5pm.

Visit the Kwi Awt Stelmexw website to learn more: Join the conversation on Twitter: #SquamishLanguage

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Programming Director

*NOTE: the program is subject to funding and enrolment.

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