All communities have their heros, and not all of them are recognized.
However, not long ago, a woman described as a “language hero” by her colleague was recognized for a lifetime of dedication to Carrier/Dakelh language preservation.
Catherine Bird Coldwell was given a framed photograph of one of the Nation Lakes by local photographer Dennis Cumberland to recognize a lifetime of work with the Carrier Linguistic Society to preserve the Carrier language.
They say “if there’s no language, the culture will die,” explained Dick Walker, another person instrumental in local efforts to preserve the language.
Walker, and his wife Shirley Walker moved onto the Nak’azdli Reserve in 1961 to work on language initiatives.
“When we moved here in 1961, our goal was to provide for the Carrier Nation a modern, written form of their language,” said Dick Walker. With the “modern, written form” there would then be the possibility of educational tools and religious tools to help carry on the language and culture.
Catherine Bird Coldwell then came to the couple and the group they worked with, with her dream of bringing the language into local schools and teaching the students throughout their education.
“From that time on it’s just been an excellent relationship with her,” said Dick Walker.
The group then created the first language primers for schools, to introduce the Carrier alphabet they had created, they produced a plant book for the area, produced a teaching approach to help meet the provincial language teaching requirements.
The College of New Caledonia (CNC) also helped the group develop teaching methods.
The group also developed a Carrier language dictionary, a huge stride for the language’s preservation.
The group was formalized into the Carrier Linguistic Committee, and later the Carrier Linguistic Society under the guidance of Ray Prince, and Coldwell was there through it all.
“Every time we have a project of course, Catherine has been involved in them,” said Walker.
The group has continued to work on language preservation, and is completely revising the Carrier language dictionary they originally produced and are creating online resources. Soon, using the online site First Voices, students of the language will be able to hear Carrier spoken aloud.
They have also produced a bilingual classroom dictionary.
Through all the labour-intensive projects, Walker said not only has Coldwell been there working with the group, but he described her as a “visionary colleague” and “one who has always had that vision of the value of the Carrier language,” said Walker, also calling her a “happy and very positive outreaching colleague.”