Florence Sam shows students some moose hide pieces during a lesson in Carrier language and culture at Nak'albun Elementary.

Living Language

Florence Sam and Carla Howell are keeping their community's language alive at Nak'albun Elementary School.

Florence Sam and Carla Howell are keeping their community’s language alive at Nak’albun Elementary School.

Sam has been teaching the Carrier language at Nak’albun school for 28 years. Her mother Mildred Martin taught at the school for nine years before she left and Sam was asked to step in to fill the position.

In those days, there was no curriculum and no resources, so Sam had to develop her own curriculum over the years, and created her own resources, making flashcards from scratch.

Sam had helped her mother with classes, but didn’t have any teacher training, however she had been brought up in the Carrier language, as both of her parents spoke the language at home.

All these years later, the teacher still manages to say, “I love it,” about the job she started as a volunteer.

In her early years as a teacher, Sam said she had trouble letting go of the kids at the end of the year, getting so attached she would cry when they moved on.

But over the years she has come to feel like her work is achieving the goals she hoped for, and parents are realizing the importance of keeping the language and culture alive.

People are especially more interested in the culture with the increase in drumming and singing going on.

Sam feels like it allows her students to appreciate where they come from and where they live.

“If you were living in Vancouver, would you be able to go out trapping?” asks Sam.

After so many years of passing on her culture and language, Sam is beginning to look back at her time and appreciate what has been accomplished.

There are now more resources for teachers and students, even a new online tool for First Nations language studies called firstvoices.com.

The website allows students to play computer games and learn traditional songs in their own dialect.

Sam developed a complete curriculum for learning the Carrier language and culture through the elementary years.

Sam also began Heritage Days at the school, which has become an entire week of cultural events in which elders demonstrate skills for students, from setting nets to campfire cooking to cleaning a moose hide.

This year, Dakelh Days or Heritage Days will be from February 21 to 25 and schools from Vanderhoof and Prince George will be coming to watch and learn as well.

Sam draws upon local talent for the event, and everyone pitches in.

“I have a big family and they’re all good at something,” explains Sam.

Now she is hoping to pass the torch on to her niece, Carla Howell, who was also raised by Sam’s parents and so was raised in the language and then went on to UNBC to do a three year program to teach Carrier.

While it is her first class ever, the team teaching approach is working well to initiate her into the role.

“It’s an awesome job, I love it,” says Howell.

The program at Nak’albun starts the kids out in nursery school and goes right on to grade 7.

The program involves lots of hands-on teaching with lessons centred around living within the culture.

“I think I enjoy working here because it’s a more open cultural thing,” says Howell.

“I think we learn from eachother everyday.”