Do whatever it takes. There will be obstacles and extensive efforts involved to start a nest at the community level, but this is important. Don’t let anything stand in your way. If nobody wants to help you, just keep going, and people will eventually start to join you. Language Nests are an internationally proven model of success in transferring language to toddlers. The nest is a place where language immersion is delivered during a crucial period in toddler’s development, when they are particularly receptive to language acquisition through exposure to the target language. This is a particularly important measure to take for our communities, many of which will see the passing on of most or all of our fluent speakers within the next 5-10 years. A first language is any language someone gains fluency in by the age of 7 years old. The Language Nest is a last resort measure to create first language speakers before the elders pass on.
ʔuʔuʔaałuk Language Nest began in September, 2014. To date, we have delivered 100 hours of immersion with funding from First Peoples’ Cultural Council through our application to a call-out for Language Nest Applications. These call-outs are e-mailed out and posted on their website once or twice a year, as funding becomes available.
ʔuʔuʔaałuk is on track to complete 240 hours of immersion by the end of March, 2015, when we will have to find new funding to continue. Currently, our nest operates on a budget that pays the elders, and had a small food and snack allowance, which is now exhausted. Hesquiaht Fisheries’ Josh Charleson provided us with enough sockeye to serve fish at every immersion day until March. My role and the roles of all our adults are volunteer roles, and the space is provided free of cost by Gail Peterson-Gus’s position with Tseshaht First Nation.
Ideally, you’ll need at least two fluent speakers, but other nests like the one at Adams Lake, have been successful at starting (in 1987) with just one speaker, who built up the language of the learning staff and founder over the years to create an immersion setting. You have to do whatever it takes to keep your language spoken. The fluent speaker in the nest needs someone to talk to that can either understand, or is making a big effort to understand in order to keep the language flowing. In all cases, the staff/learner(s) definitely need to be making extended efforts outside of the nest to learn faster.
ʔuʔuʔaałuk has two fluent elders, tupaat and Maggie, and a number of adults and parents whose language efforts have gained them proficiencies ranging from advanced-beginner to beginner-intermediate. The more speakers at all levels you can have in the nest, the richer and louder the language will be spoken amongst the group for the children to listen and eventually start to speak. Our elders have been very willing to speak the language with us, and repeat the correct way to say things in a positive way. That allows us to get the speaking practice we all need without fear of “getting it wrong.” It has actually become an enjoyable experience to say something I know isn’t quite correct, and wait for tupaat or Maggie to give me a phrase that sounds so much better.
Everybody is Equal under the Elders
Once the nest begins, it is our Indigenous way that the most important people in the nest are the elders, and you, the founder(s) now belong to the secondarily most important group of people. That group is made up of people who are willing to trust in the immersion process, and to bring their children to the nest. Those with the courage to step forward now will become a very important part of the future speaking community. Honor them. Language shapes the way you think, so it is best to nurture an expanding community of learners with like-minds. Without them, you might have nobody to talk to in your language. Only crazy people talk to themselves all the time, right?
Our day begins with coffee and a good prayer whose energy creates the foundation for the day’s work, trying to stay in the language. It can be a daunting task, even for fluent speakers, because they don’t usually have to speak all day long. English still creeps in, however, but we are aiming for zero English interruptions in the nest by the end of this first seven months. There are some very good days for language use, and there are some challenging days from time to time, when everyone feels like too much English is being used. There have been many days when I am astounded with how far we are all coming along in our language. There is a general opinion among us that we can reach our 100% immersion goal by March.
We try to keep activities simple, and create a home-like atmosphere while keeping language in the center of everything. This means crafts that are not too messy or complicated. This means we do not deliver formal circle teachings, but sometimes we have storytelling or group immersion activities, like drawing stories while talking through them. We talk to the kids about what they are doing all day, and talk to each other about what we are doing in the past, present and future. By doing this, we are modeling the language in the context of everyday living, and creating an emotional bond with the language for the children.
I’ve been told that a challenge arises when licensed Daycare or Head Start facilities want to make the transition to become a Language Nest. I cannot speak to the difficulties with satisfying licensing requirements while implementing a nest program. I chose not to go the licensing route because we didn’t initially have a facility to use, and because ECE training is very western-based, and ECE education includes racist research findings in their training textbooks. It would be a waste of time to send volunteers, who already hold higher levels of education, or elders, who already know a traditional way to care for children, to ECE training.
I have heard from other nests in the province that they have dropped or forgone their licensing in favor of running the nest in an authentic Indigenous way, directed by the elders who remember what it was like to be raised in a highly caring Indigenous way. I am told it can take up too much time trying to deal with the licensing issues that arise, and that is precious time taken away from language learning. If you have an administrator that is not on the front lines of language revitalization, this would be considerable benefit to your program in navigating licensing regulations to include language immersion.
First Peoples Cultural Council has extensive Online Resources for Language Nests:
Come and visit us! Contact Layla through the contact form at www.hesquiahtlanguage.org