Nuu-chah-nulth language advocates urge university to waive tuition for program

Denise Titian, January 15, 2018

(Denise Titian photo)

Port Alberni — 

The Nuu-chah-nulth language is teetering on the edge of extinction with only an estimated one per cent of Nuu-chah-nulth members identifying as fluent speakers, according to Victoria Wells, a long-time Nuu-chah-nulth language proponent. But years of hard work and collaboration have culminated in a rare and relatively sudden opportunity for people wishing to learn the language through a university-level program.

The University of Victoria is offering the Nuu-chah-nulth Language Proficiency Certificate Program, set to begin in February 2, 2018. The program is being offered through a partnership between the university, Quuquuatsa Language Society (QLS) and North Island College. It is a pilot project being offered to Nuu-chah-nulth learners regardless of their level of proficiency and promises to build on their language knowledge, no matter which dialect they speak.

Wells, an Ehattesaht woman who has been an active member of the non-profit Quuquuatsa Language Society, says the course is designed for working people and will be offered on weekends so that participants may continue to work their regular jobs. Every month students will work one weekend in class at North Island College in Port Alberni, except for the months of May, July and December, when they will spend two weekends in class.

The program is being taught by several Nuu-chah-nulth instructors and a well-known linguist, Adam Werle, who has been involved in teaching Nuu-chah-nulth language classes for decades. “We’re really working hard to make sure our own people teach our own people,” said Wells.

Learners earn university credits and, upon successful completion, will earn a diploma or certificate in Indigenous Language Revitalization. The credentials can be used by people wishing to develop their workplace skills or by aspiring teachers needing university credits.

The program will run in three terms, ending on December 15. Students will take three courses during each term with tuition fees estimated at $1,764.90 per term, for a total of $5, 294.70 for the entire program.

While this new program is being regarded as an important opportunity to help save the Nuu-chah-nulth language by promoting it to new learners, Wells is concerned that the cost of tuition will be a barrier due to timing.

Wells and the Quuquuatsa Language Society (QLS) have been advocating for language classes at the university for years so it was a pleasant surprise when this opportunity fell into their laps in December 2017. Changes in the provincial government and in university practises relating to indigenous program funding resulted in this unexpected opportunity.

According to Wells, the provincial government provides annual funding in the amount of $200,000 to all universities in B.C. The dollars are targeted for aboriginal student investment. “We have asked for language programs for years and this December, the desire and the funding have caught up with each other,” said Wells.

This is the inaugural Nuu-chah-nulth Language Program. In order for it to go ahead as planned in February, at least 18 students must be identified.

Finding interested students is not a problem. QLS Coordinator Anna Masso notes that even without public promotion more than 60 Nuu-chah-nulth-aht have expressed a desire to take the course.

“We are working on filling the seats, we are advocating the university to offer the courses for free and we are asking First Nations and individuals to be creative,” Wells said.

“Nuu-chah-nulth is breaking ground again and we’re sorry for the short notice but it’s long overdue,” she added.

QLS is seeking political support from Nuu-chah-nulth leaders to lobby UVic to waive the tuition fees for this pilot project. “We are the first indigenous language group in the province with UVic to do this. Although it is not the first time that the individual courses have been offered, it is the first time all the courses have been organized into this specific offering and credential creating process. This program has high probability of getting Senate approval, especially given the 'Reconciliation' mandate given to the universities in the county,” Wells wrote, on behalf of QLS.

The deadline to register for the course is Jan. 15, 2018. For more information about the course contact QLS Coordinator Anna Masso at 250-723-1447, UVic Coordinator Lacey Jones at or call 250-721-7824.