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Nanaimo school district finding new ways to expand Indigenous language instruction

SD68 trustees updated on Hul’q’umi’num’ language learning
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ administration centre boardroom features Hul’q’umi’num’ phrases and Indigenous art. (News Bulletin file)

Two years after passing a reconciliation policy, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district reports that it is finding new ways to bolster Indigenous language instruction.

The district’s Syeyutsus reconciliation policy and framework is guiding document that seeks balance between First Nations and western traditions. Ted Cadwallader, Indigenous learning director of instruction, updated trustees at their March board meeting about Hul’q’umi’num’ language work.

“We were able to identify and recruit, over the last two years, three new Hul’q’umi’num’ teachers and we now have seven teachers working in our school district certified with First Nations language teaching certificates,” Cadwallader said.

The teachers are dispersed over 26 schools and Cadwallader said the situation is “still thin on the ground, still fragile” as there are such a small number of Hul’q’umi’num’-certified language teachers, with a “great need” in the district. The teachers are also teaching in post-secondary and community programs as well, he said.

The district provides dedicated funding out of its targeted aboriginal education budget annually, said Cadwallader, with a line item for resource development and training. He said the school district has purchased microphones and speakers so that when teachers are wearing their masks, they can still be heard clearly by students.

Ongoing training is being provided for the remainder of the year, with assistance of a fluent Hul’q’umi’num’ speaker, according to Cadwallader. Teachers met two weeks ago and will meet five more times before conclusion of the school year.

The district added an Indigenous learning coordinator, Tannis Calder, at the beginning of last school year, Cadwallader said, which has yielded dividends.

“Her incredible skill set of working with our language teachers has helped the district set up a publishing entity to start with called NLPS Learns and through that publishing company, we’ve published … [a] book, Shxw’al’uq’wa, about families and so there’s a number of publishing pieces that are on the roll,” Cadwallader said.

Calder’s skill set has also allowed the district to offer digital resources; for example, said Cadwallader, a colouring book has an embedded QR code so that students can hear the book being read to them in the Hul’q’umi’num language.

“We learned last year, during remote learning because of COVID, that our language teachers’ resources were based in hard copy for the most part and so that’s why [there’s] this effort to build these digital resources,” Cadwallader said.

A teacher has been assigned to the early-learning centre at Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh School, he said, to teach pre-school children and start the school “on that path of a Hul’q’umi’num’ immersion environment.”

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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