Ruby Peter, who wears the Coast Salish name Sti’tum’at, turns 86 this year. You might think that she spends most of her time enjoying retirement visiting with her great-great-grandchildren, and assisting them with their traditional culture ceremonies and spiritual training. You would be only partially right, for when you follow her through her work week, you will find a schedule of teaching, research, and service parallel to that of an SFU professor.
She works indefatigably on behalf of her language, Hul’q’umi’num’, which has seen a decline from 2000 native speakers in 1960 to 20 native speakers today. For over six decades she has trained new speakers of the language and currently there are over 200 fluent second language speakers and many thousands who have a basic knowledge of the language, thanks largely due to Mrs. Peter and the language teachers she has trained.
She says, “It is the language teachers that I am worried about. The ones who are teaching today will not be doing so after a few more years. We need to train future language teachers now.”
She puts her call to action into practice: In 2018, she was the lead Elder in the team teaching the sixteen MA students in Linguistics of a First Nations language program and the fourteen students in the Certificate in First Nations Language Proficiency program, all of whom will convocate this June. This year, she will be lead Elder for a cohort of students in the Diploma in First Nations Language Proficiency and the next cohort of Graduate Certificate students.
Dr. Donna Gerdts, Linguistics, says, “Ruby Peter has helped us build over 10,000 pages of texts from Hul’q’umi’num’ speakers, including Mrs. Peter’s own set of one hundred stories. This corpus together with the accompanying sound and video files is a treasure of linguistic and cultural knowledge, probably the largest corpus for any Salish language. Without Mrs. Peter’s expertise, this rich legacy of materials would not exist.”
Besides training the next generation of Hul’q’umi’num’ language teachers and researchers, Peter maintains a steady schedule of research and publication. She is currently the lead language consultant on five SSHRC grants—an Insight grant on Hul’q’umi’num’ stories and four Partnership Development Grants on narrative and discourse structure, pronunciation, the language of canoe culture, and Hul’q’umi’num’ theatre. Peter serves on boards, panels, and committees that set policies and provide linguistic support for various language revitalization efforts in her community.
Today, we congratulate Ruby Peter on receiving an Honorary Degree from Simon Fraser University, and we thank her for being one of our lead elders and key community partners for decades.