The University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan is on track to become the first university in Canada to offer an undergraduate degree in Indigenous language fluency. The Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency (BNLF) is the product of years of collaboration between UBC, the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and the En’owkin Centre.
Nsyilxcn is a Salish language spoken by members of the Syilx Okanagan Nation in British Columbia’s southern interior.
“The idea that there’s only knowledge in English or French is absolutely not true,” says Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, associate professor of Indigenous studies at UBC Okanagan and academic lead on the BNLF. “Language is identity. Indigenous knowledge systems and an Indigenous paradigm—how we view the world and how we interact—are deeply rooted in language.”
The new degree program is part of the university’s larger response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. Issued in 2015, the TRC’s Calls to Action were an attempt to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” UBC Okanagan signed a declaration of its commitment to Indigenous students, culture, and scholarship in 2019.
“[The Nsyilxcn language fluency degree] exemplifies how a respectful and impactful partnership between First Nations, Indigenous institutes, and post-secondary institutions can advance language revitalization and help develop the next generation of fluent language teachers,” says Tyrone McNeil, president of the First Nations Education Steering Committee.
The BNLF program will welcome its first incoming class in September 2021.