On Friday, Jan. 13, both students and faculty at TRU had the exciting opportunity to learn a bit of introductory Secwepemctsín, or Shuswap Language. The lesson was taught by Ted Gottfriedson, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Language and Culture Department Manager. Besides the introductory lesson on Secwepemctsín, Gottfriedson covered a variety of topics including the history of Secwepemctsín and his personal experience in learning the language.
Gottfriedson taught at South Kamloops Secondary for many years before earning his MA in Linguistics at SFU. He now leads Secwepemctsín language initiatives for the Interior-Salish Secwepemc (Shuswap) speaking peoples of British Columbia, known as the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc.
Gottfriedson recapitulated the history of Interior-Salish Secwepemc languages and the importance of the continued learning of those languages. After leaving South Kamloops Secondary Gottfriedson stated that he, “was able to reconnect with elders and [has] learned more Secwepemctsín in the last four years than in the twenty years previous.” Gottfriedson’s reserve lost their last fluid speaking elder this past year which further made visible the need for shared knowledge concerning the language.
The Secwepemctsín language and other Interior-Salish languages all originated from a ‘mother’ language or ‘Proto-Salish’ language; linguists estimate that Secwepemctsín developed over 5,500 to 6,000 years ago while the ‘Proto-Salish’ language Secwepemctsín originated from is believed to have emerged sometime over 10,000 years ago as ice leftover from the last glacial period began to retreat. Secwepemctsín, therefore, is an exceptionally old language.
Gottfriedson reminisced over his childhood and the sound of spoken Secwepemctsín stating, “It was really good medicine to hear [elders] speak… [the language] was always full of laughter.” Now though, Gottfriedson says some elders have trouble uttering the language or refuse to share it because of the lasting impact residential schools had on their mental well-being. Gottfriedson considers himself lucky to have met elders who not only speak the language but are willing to teach it; as the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Language and Culture Department Manager, Gottfriedson organizes ongoing meetings with fluid speakers for the purpose of the continued learning of the language.
Gottfriedson believes there’s a real resilience in speaking the language, “every word spoken in [Secwepemctsín] takes that much sting out of [residential schools] and buries the hurt and lasting feelings” felt by indigenous peoples who experienced the atrocity of residential schools.
Meetings with speakers of the language are now fully recorded and every word spoken is stored elsewhere on audio files. Gottfriedson says his band has literally, “put their money where their mouth is” with the creation of a new department geared strictly towards the revitalization of the Secwepemctsín language; because of elders willing to share their knowledge and individuals like Gottfriedson who are eager to learn. Many now consider the language “on the ups”.