The Chamaapil language and culture class is teaching Tla-o-qui-aht this summer. Participants pictured from left to right are Sienna David, Gisele Martin, Mary Jane Amos, Kayla-Anne Thomas, Kiera Amos and Jaimie Curley. (Nora Martin photo)
On a cool, sunny evening Kiera, Màry Jane, Jaimie, Sienna and Kayla-Anne gather around the fire pit eager to participate in the language class being taught by Gisele Martin.
The girls pick up a drum, and Gisele sings a song of name places, ocean tides and numbers that she composed as a way to learn the language. The names in the song include Tsashiiwa, which means sound of the waves, Chawin-is, island in the middle, Muuyapilth, the fourth rock marking the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s hahoolthe next to Yuulu?il?ath (Ucluelet).
Gisele asks the girls what other names she can include in the song and they shout out Opitsaht, Esowista and Ty Histanis.
Gisele also sings a song to learn numbers up to a million.
Each First Nation has their own dialect and can understand what other tribes within Nuu-chah-nulth are saying, and is influenced by their closest neighbouring tribe. Tla-o-qui-ant, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht are central, Toquaht and Yuulu?il?ath speak Barkley Sound Dialect.
Gisele took an interest in the language around the age of 3 or 4 when she skinned her knee. Her mother used soothing TFN words to comfort her. In 2010 Gisele started studying by herself by gathering as much information as she could. The late Barb Touchie of Yuulu?il?ath and Levi Martin were her teachers. She learned the international phonetics.
Gisele also took the mentoring, apprentice language immersion program with Levi. She completed 900 hours in total.
Gisele shared that TFN is in danger of losing the language all together.
At the moment there are efforts being made to preserve the TFN language; plans are underway to seek approval from the chief, council and Ha’wiih to declare the official language within TFN hahoolthe. Signage will be used in and around Tofino. Tsimka Martin and Levi Martin are currently involved with a mentoring, apprentice language immersion program while Ivy Martin and Carla Moss are working at creating an app for families to learn together.
Grace George and Cecilia Arnet teach preschoolers and elementary students the TFN language.
Cathy Williams uses flash cards to teach her grandchildren and she reports what they are learning.
Brayden Tom, 5, is learning Tla-o-qui-aht and Nitinaht language from his mom and grandparents.
Less than 10 per cent of over a thousand Tla-o-qui-aht members can speak the language fluently.
Gisele has had her doubts over the years of losing the language, but is happy and excited her sister Tsimka is in the mentoring program and she will have someone to talk to.
Class schedule for the summer months are as follows: July 5, 19 and Aug. 2 in Esowista and July 12 & 26 in Opitsaht.