B.C. teen developing app and summer camp to revitalize Dakelh language

A 15-year-old in Prince George, B.C., will be spending 2018 trying to revitalize the language her family spoke for generations through an app and a summer camp.

Tessa Erickson is a high school student and a member of the . Growing up, she said, her father would occasionally speak to her in the dialect of the  language historically spoken in central B.C., even though he wasn‘t fluent.

“He would just teach me small words,” Erickson said.

“It was really neat because I could tell my dad something and nobody would really know what it meant, but kind of a bit sad because nobody knew what it meant.”

In the 1960s the Carrier Linguistic Society developed a writing system for Dakelh based on the Latin alphabet. (FirstVoices)

Erickson learned about residential schools and how older members of her family were prevented from speaking their language, which lead to a decline in those who could speak it.

“We‘d lost that part of ourselves,” she said.

This year, she decided she wanted things to change.

Working with her parents, she applied for a grant from her band to develop an app and summer camp to help other young people immerse themselves in Dakelh. She received $50,000 and is in the early stages of development now.

Erickson spends free time improving her Dakelh language skills and enrolled in a course at the local college to improve her grammar. (Jordan Tucker/CBC)

Her goal is to have an app up and running in the the early part of 2018 so youth can start learning basic words and sentence structure, then they can attend a camp where they will learn the language from elders and trained speakers.

She is also looking into paying for coding lessons for band members so they can operate and update the app.

Meanwhile, Erickson is working toward fluency, speaking to elders and enrolling in a Dakelh language course in a different but similar dialect at the College of New Caledonia.

Erickson‘s notes on what her app might look like. (Jordan Tucker/CBC)

Erickson said it‘s important to her to learn while the elders are still around in her community.

“I feel I haven‘t quite lived out my full potential as a member of the band because I cannot speak the language and parts of the culture I haven‘t learned yet,” she said.

She also believes it will be good for the Nak‘azdli Whut‘en as a whole to keep the language alive.

“Bringing back the language could really help us as a community come together culturally. Just, make us stronger and hopefully we can branch out and help out other communities,” she said.

She hopes other young people will join her in her mission.

“We are the future. It‘s up to us.”

With files from Jordan Tucker

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