First Nations Languages spoken around here.

To continue on the track of local languages mentioned in this post yesterday

I was listening to the radio in the car… Scanning for good music.  A station out of Vancouver apparently broadcasts in Chinese.  A “multicultural radio station” here on the island kept my attention much longer, broadcasting in a native language… My GUESS would be that it was something like Hupačasatḥ hiits cik yak, “stories of the Hupač̓asatḥ“, a First Nation around Port Alberni, part of the Nuu Chah Nulth -speaking First Nations on the western coastal side of Vancouver Island…  But I don’t know.  For example, the Tseshaht First Nation traditional territory overlaps quite a bit with one such map I found for such Hupacasath First Nation’s territory… and I haven’t found one that shows ALL of ‘m combined.

I think I don’t need to feel too bad about my ongoing widespread ignorance though.  Not only do the few long-time locals I’ve asked know absolutely nothing about this, and the number of actual native speakers is only in the hundreds per language, but that Tseshaht First Nation traditional territory map even comes with a disclaimer: “This Tseshaht boundary map is for information sharing use only. The collection of evidence of the traditional use and occupation of the Tseshaht Nation’s traditional territory is an ongoing process. The Tseshaht Nation expressly reserves the right to modify the map of its traditional territory from time to time as more information is obtained.”   ;-) Ha.

I went digging some more, ’cause, to be honest, I’m a little confused about all the languages… what is spoken where and such.  (It’s not like upon arrival I was given an aboriginal’s guide to where I am…) I found quite helpful:


Meanwhile, we’re a couple days later and I now understand that, for instance, to just pick one language cluster / culturally interconnected region, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribe (or is it Nation?  Language?  With… how many governments/Tribal Councils?  Maybe this place is a little like Belgium… Ha.),… well, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribe consists of 14 Nations (or is it Bands?), who often refer to themselves by their … tribal/nation/band identity (like the Tla-o-qui-aht I met), but they all speak (variations of) Nuu-Chah-Nulth. Only 200-500 people under age 50 speak it truly fluently, though…  ;-/  When enough people learn it, speak it and keep the language alive, it could be prevented from going extinct…  There’s a good reason to make it mandatory in schools throughout the region.

As far as the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation goes, the website,, explains it well:

“In 1958, the Nations formed the West Coast Allied Tribes, and on August 14, 1973 incorporated as a non-profit society called the West Coast District Society of Indian Chiefs. Six years later, they changed the name to Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) on April 2, 1979.

Today, each Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation includes several chiefly families, and most include what were once considered several separate local groups.  Fourteen Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations are divided into three regions:

  • Southern Region: Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, Hupacasath, Tse-shaht, and Uchucklesaht
  • Central Region: Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Toquaht, and Ucluelet
  • Northern Region: Ehattesaht, Kyuquot/Cheklesahht, Mowachat/Muchalaht, and Nuchatlaht”

Okay…   And as far as what I was probably hearing on the radio, we can at least learn the basics of the Nuu Chah Nulth language if we want to: and there are weekly gatherings in the area of Port Alberni with fluent speakers if you want to take it further.

I don’t see a point in starting to learn one until I stay in one area long enough to put down roots.  Most local languages have currently very little use at this moment.  Yet that could change.  Just like learning the local fauna and flora, I just think learning the local language that has ties to the land you’re on, is just common courtesy when settling somewhere you’re not from.  Clearly it’s not that common, given the evidence people arriving here over the past couple centuries didn’t share that view…  Clearly.  Still interesting to learn about, though.

Apparently I drove through at least 3 language regions on my little island excursion:

Language Geek I found pretty helpful too.  For instance, it clarified how Sencoten, spoken around Victoria, is one of nine Salishan languages, and also that “Halkomelem“, which includes Hul-qu-mi-num is a Salishan language as well, while Nuu-Chah-nulth is one of five Wakashan languages.

(Halkomelem is a term used by linguists to group together three closely related Halkomelem dialects: Hul’q’umi’num’ or ‘Cowichan’ (spoken in the Cowichan Valley, including in the cities of Duncan and Nanaimo), Hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ also called ‘Musqueam’ (around the mouth of the Fraser River); and Halq’eméylem or ‘Stó:lō’ (along the Fraser river from Matsqui to Yale).  And just to mess with my head, those linguists’ English language names may inaccurately represent the nations in question, though.








On this University of Calgary map of First Nation’s languages spoken in Canada, you can then see these two languages larger territory as it extends inland:

CLICK IMAGE for source. (Note, though, that the southern tip of Vancouver Island is erroneously colored in Haida-language turqoise blue, while it should be in Salishan light green.)

If I were to stick with it and actually learn a local aboriginal language, then I could speak it to urban locals (with more similar backgrounds), but who grew up here, and when they’d not have a clue what I’d were saying, I could joke, “You ain’t from around here, are you, white boy?” [j/k!]    (I’ve been told that on numerous other occasions in the rural US, mainly ’cause I ask a lot of questions…)

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