From left to right: Martina Joe (Ruby Peter's grand-niece), Ruby Peter, Lynsay Johnny (Peter's granddaughter), Bernadette Sam (Peter's daughter)

Convocation, Community

Three generations cross the stage in one convocation ceremony

June 20, 2019

As young women, Elder Ruby Peter (Sti’tum’at) and her sister spent eight years driving down the Malahat to the University of Victoria to study languages and how to teach them. Elder Ruby then used that training to save her language, Hul’q’umi’num’, which had experienced a decline from 2,000 native speakers in 1960 to 20 native speakers today. 

For over six decades Elder Ruby has trained new speakers of Hul’q’umi’num’. There are now over 200 fluent second language speakers and many thousands who have basic knowledge of the language thanks largely due to Elder Ruby and the language teachers she has trained. In recognition of her work to save her language, she received an honorary degree at Simon Fraser University’s convocation ceremony on June 13, 2019.

Her life’s work has been to restore the language and culture of her people and now she can be proud of the direct results and impact on her own family. In June, three generations of her family crossed the stage to receive SFU degrees: Bernadette Sam, her daughter; Lynsay Johnny, her granddaughter; and Martina Joe, her late sister's granddaughter.

Elder Ruby says, "What I see now is a medicine for us and our children. My mother told me, 'Don’t stop talking. Keep talking to your children every day.’ This is a most important thing, to encourage our youth to do great things, to follow the things they can do.” 

Donna Gerdts, SFU Linguistics professor, adds, “It is clear that Elder Ruby Peter’s work has changed the landscape of First Nations language learning.” 

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for universities to create degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages and SFU is proud to report that 24 students received their master’s degrees and 37 received their Certificates in First Nations Languages this year.

SFU's First Nations Languages Program was founded in 1993 and has seen a dramatic increase in enrolments in the last few years. A new cohort of students will begin their programs in September. 

The family members each wore a unique matching dress to celebrate the big day.