Penticton Museum’s new exhibit honours syilx language keepers

‘This exhibit was very emotional for me. My mother was anever really acknowledged for her language,’ says Kristine Jack, about her mother Clara.

The late Clara Jack is one of four people being honoured by the Penticton Museum & Archives and the En’owkin Centre for their significant contributions to keeping the nsyilxcən (syilx) language alive. 

Jack was a Penticton Indian Band member, a fluent high-language speaker, and a language teacher for 40 years. 

She received a linguistics degree from the University of Victoria in the 1970s and contributed to many language projects and programs through the En’owkin Centre, according to the exhibit.

“My mom spent so much time with the language. She wanted to make sure everybody spoke the language and was aware of the language in writing as well,” says her daughter, Kristine Jack. 

The Our Living Languages exhibit opened on July 21 at the Penticton Museum & Archives, and it will run through  Sept. 30. It showcases the groundbreaking language work done by Jack, the En’owkin Centre, and three other nsyilxcən speakers — Dave Parker, Bernice (Baptiste) Squakin, and Herbie Manuel — since the ‘70s. 

“This exhibit was very emotional for me. My mother was never really acknowledged for her language,” Jack tells IndigiNews. “I am so grateful for the En’owkin Center to acknowledge my mom as being one of the language pioneers.” 

Dave Parker 

The late Dave Parker was an Okanagan Indian Band member and language keeper in the Syilx Okanagan Nation

Parker is being honoured for his contribution to the Okanagan people and his work to preserve the Okanagan language.

“Taking the ‘high Okanagan’ he learned when he was young, he went on to develop a dictionary based on the phonetic spelling of the words,” reads a plaque about Parker at the exhibit. 

His daughter, Sharon Parker, spoke for her late father at the opening. 

“My dad was most often recognized for working with the chiefs of the Okanagan Nation Alliance in drafting and translating the Okanagan Nation Declaration in 1987,”  she says.

Bernice (Baptiste) Squakin

The late Bernice (Baptiste) Squakin was a Penticton Indian Band member and a fluent nsyilxcən speaker. She created the nsyilxcən linguistic alphabet picture book to show the location of where the sounds are constructed in the mouth or throat, according to the exhibit.

Herbie Manuel

Late Herbie Manuel was an Upper Nicola Band member, fluent in nsyilxcən, nłeʔkepmxcín and English. 

Manuel is being honoured for his contribution to territorial boundaries, place name research and language publications over the years, according to the exhibit.  

“He worked diligently to maintain Upper Nicola Band identity as Syilx; advocating for land claims, protection of heritage sites, hunting, fishing, water and other rights,” reads the plaque.

In the 1980s, Manuel studied linguistic analysis at the University of Montana. After completing his practicum, he developed the nsyilxcən language curriculum for the En’owkin Centre. 

“My dad never lost sight of his training and connections to tmx w ulax w (the land),” says his son Matthew Manual. “He passed many of his teachings onto his children — how to gather and prepare traditional foods, fishing,  hunting and to have respect for all living things.”

Manuel was among the first to get a linguistic diploma in nsyilxcən and do work with it by learning to write and teach it — taking his learning to the next level, according to the exhibit. 

‘Instrumental in keeping language alive’

Museum manager and curator Dennis Oomen says it’s important for the Penticton Museum & Archives to build relationships with the syilx people. 

“We’re a museum that represents the city of Penticton in the surrounding region,” says Oomen. “We want to make every effort we can to connect with the peoples that have lived here for thousands of years.”

Tracey Bonneau, manager of arts, culture and adult higher learning for the En’owkin Centre, says the exhibit aims “to acknowledge and honour these individuals involved who helped to create the written nsyilxcən language.” 

“These four individuals were instrumental in keeping the syilx language alive,” Bonneau — who is also a Syilx Okanagan Nation member — said at the opening.  

“They started to revitalize our language, in efforts to preserve and promote the nsyilxcən language for future generations.”  

Editor’s note: We don’t use capital letters in nsyilxcən words. This is because, according to nsyilxcən language holders, capitalization insinuates that someone or something holds more importance than another, and this belief does not fall in line with syilx ethics.

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