Northern B.C.’s Stellat’en First Nation now has a dedicated headquarters to preserve and revive its language and culture.
This winter on Dec. 1, the Stellat’en Language and Cultural Centre Whutsunadilh ba yah opened with traditional smudging by elder Roy Nooski of Nadleh First Nation and a blessing from Father Vincent James of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.
Visitors to the grand opening were welcomed with a traditionally tanned deer hide displayed by the centre’s entrance and a display of English- and French-Carrier dictionaries produced by missionary Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice, who was posted to north central B.C. in the late 19th century.
As the home for community education programs, the centre will also house a studio for recording the Stellat’en dialect of the Carrier language from the remaining fluent speakers of the community. According to a community survey conducted several years ago, less than 10 per cent of the Stellat’en are fluent speakers, said Dennis Patrick, Stellat’en’s technical assistant in research and preparation of the traditional language.
In partnership with local agencies last spring, Carrier translations are added to the signage for Fraser Lake landmarks including the local health clinic and Mouse Mountain to promote language.
“We look at [visual minorities] here now, speaking their language, and we weren’t able to,” Patrick said.
Language recording is just the beginning, as the project will next continue with gathering stories and traditional knowledge from Stellat’en members who live locally or have relocated to other parts of the world.
“Like for Fraser lake and Francois Lake, we have all the stories behind that,” Patrick said. “For example, our name for Mouse Mountain is casusoqn, which means the thumb of sasquatch.”
The history of the Stellat’en was previously transmitted as urban legends and stories through word of mouth, with a lineage that extends to the Hazelton region.
“Over the years we lost members that have the wisdom, but fortunately we have some left,” he said. “Next thing is to have the information verified and proved before released into the public.”
Relearning the language and culture, with their ties to many aspects of life — such as hunting, fishing, berry picking, hides tanning, and harvesting for winter — is an opportunity to explore a traditional lifestyle.
“It’s a repatriation of our spirit to the land,” Patrick said. “Now we are stuck to our phone or satellite or TV.
“We like to go back to the ways of our living, keep the modern devices out, and learn the things that our ancestors used to do.”
The evening of celebration concluded at the Stellat’en hall with dinner and introduction of 16 elders in regalia from Stellat’en and Nadleh, presenting their earned hereditary names, origins, and significance in heritage.