A father and son have been honoured for their work as language advocates and cultural teachers, but they say it’s work that still remains unfinished.
Gary and Adam Manson are the recipients of this year’s City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award for Honour in Heritage. The award recognizes those who “demonstrate outstanding support, advocacy, promotion or interpretation of Nanaimo’s heritage and history.”
For decades Gary has been teaching Hul’q’umi’num, the language of the Snuneymuxw and neighbouring First Nations, in an effort to keep the language alive, but he said “we’re losing the battle.” He hopes the Honour in Heritage Award draws more attention to urgent need to preserve Hul’q’umi’num.
“We’re running out of time because we have no more fluent speakers here in Nanaimo but we do have some in neighbouring communities. So once we lose them we’re really in a predicament,” he said.
In recent years Gary’s son Adam has joined him in his cause.
“Teaching the language is extremely important because this language is on the verge of extinction, so the time is now,” Adam said. “We’ve got very few fluent speakers left and we have to start encouraging everyone that this is a top priority.”
Adam said he became interested in learning Hul’q’umi’num around nine years ago. He and his father subsequently enrolled in the mentor-apprentice language program at the Brentwood Bay-based First Peoples’ Cultural Council, an organization involved with indigenous language revitalization in B.C. It was around this time that Adam began teaching Hul’q’umi’num at Stz’uminus Community School
“All of the timing came together at the right time because here I am, just a few steps ahead of my students, getting to teach them. And I was honest with them about that just to try to encourage them to come towards it,” Adam said. “And once me and my dad got into this program we both benefited from it. I had all of these questions and then it just encouraged my dad to find out more of the language because he knew I was really interested.”
Gary said he’s seeing more interest in Hul’q’umi’num now than there was 10 years ago, “but we haven’t found the right vehicle to bring fluency to our people.” He warns that without committed learners, the language is still at risk of dying out.
“The interest needs to be a 24-7 thing,” Gary said. “It’s not enough to just take a course or go show up at a language class once or twice a week. It’s not enough. It’s got to be an everyday thing.”
He said the best way to save the language is for people to start speaking it in their homes. He said that’s a strategy he’s employed in his own household.
“We’re experimenting with my grandkids because we’re all in the same house,” he said. “Right now we’re choreographing conversations but until you’re speaking it, it’s not going to stay alive.”