Speaking with the heart

October 05, 2006, volume 37, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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When you speak your own language, you speak with the heart, says Joyce Thevarge. The first graduate to earn two First Nations language proficiency certificates from SFU's Kamloops program was honoured at a convocation ceremony for 21 students on Sept. 15.

After attending an international conference on Salish and neighbouring languages in Lillooet, the single mother of three from the N'quatqua Nation near Mount Currie returned to the classroom to learn her own language, St'at'imcets, and re-introduce it to those in her community.

"There were different nationalities of people there who could speak our language, write it, and break it down. That made up my mind."

Her parents had been fluent speakers—her father was a hereditary chief, who could speak various dialects within their nation.

Thevarge arrived in Kamloops without a vehicle and learned that the program offered St'at'imcets—but in Lillooet. Instead, she took Secwepmectsin, the language of Shushwap Nation and found the languages had many similarities.

With car in place by the second semester she headed for Lillooet, but kept a foot in her Secwepmectsin studies. "I knew then I could do both languages," she says. "I loved it."

While earning the certificates was a milestone, Thevarge takes pleasure in nurturing what she has learned. "Speaking your own language gives you a sense of inner pride," she says. "It identifies who you are and where you come from."

Thevarge plans to start teaching the St'at'imcets language to young and old in her community. "I hope to bring it back to where everyone feels comfortable enough to speak it with confidence," she says.

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