Jonny Williams (left) Swo-wo Billy, and Charlene George work on an assignment for their Squamish Adult Immersion course.

Students, First Nations, Linguistics

New cohort of Squamish speakers hopes to revitalize language

February 15, 2017

In a classroom at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver campus, Swo-wo Billy, Charlene George and Jonny Williams speak casually in the Squamish language about their weekend plans. This slice-of-life may seem ordinary but these students are helping revive a language on the brink of extinction.

Seven years ago, fewer than 10 fluent Squamish speakers existed and that number continued to dwindle.

“It’s skipped a generation,” says George. “My grandpa was excited as the last time he had heard someone speaking Squamish to him was his late grandmother.”

In 2016, Kwi Awt Stelmexw, a non-profit organization from the Squamish Nation community, partnered with SFU’s First Nations Languages Centre and Department of Linguistics to launch a two-year, full-time, adult immersion program in the Squamish language. Their goal: to produce 15 fluent Squamish language speakers each year, growing the number of speakers to 157 by 2027.