The Mission school district and Hatzic Middle School recently took home the championship title at the Halq’emeylem language contest held at Seabird Island on April 26.
The event saw 23 teams attempting to show off their language skills and learn even more words in the Upriver dialect of the Halq’eméylem language.
For many, it was more than a simple competition as the Halq’eméylem Translation Contest does important work for a language that is integral to the culture and identity of Coast Salish people across the Valley.
In the end, it was Mission that took home the title.
“I am so unbelievably proud of this group – their dedication to learning the language, and then braving the competition and not only participating, but walking away as champions,” said Rachelle Silver, the teacher who taught the language to the Mission students.
“Our group competed against 131 competitors. Some of these schools are infused with the Halq’emeylem language and have the opportunity to learn the language every day right from the beginning stages of schooling.”
She said the victory was huge considering they beat some schools who have been learning Halq’eméylem since day one.
“We were all glowing when we heard the Mission name announced.”
The language itself is in danger of disappearing. There are only five known fluent speakers of the Upriver Halq’eméylem dialect left and all are over 70 years old.
“I tell people, ‘Our language is suffocating and we’re here to give breath to [it],’ ”said Dianna Kay, Seabird Island language development/Halq’eméylem instructor.
“There are so few speakers and we don’t use it very much. But if they understand the language, they can understand the land.”
– with files from Nina Grossman