Every language deserves to flourish.
Learn about Simbi Foundation’s work in British Columbia.
You might know Simbi Foundation as an international NGO working to enhance access to education for all, regardless of background, means, or geography. You might also know us as an NGO that builds BrightBox solar-powered digital classrooms and creates digital learning materials in partnership with remote and refugee communities in Uganda and India.
What you might not know is that Simbi Foundation is headquartered on the colonized lands of the of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, now known as Vancouver.
Ever since Simbi Foundation was founded in 2015, we have felt a responsibility to contribute what we can in the spirit of reconciliation to support the Indigenous communities, schools, and learning spaces on whose land British Columbia now exists. In this blog post, we’re honoured and proud to share the partnerships we have formed with communities here in BC, and how we began collaborations with Squiala Elementary School, Stó:lō community members, and Nawalakw Healing Society to support their Halq’eméylem and Kwak̓wala language initiatives and efforts through education technology.
In January 2021, we began our journey by welcoming Jade Victor — a Stó:lō researcher and Master’s student with a focus on education and decolonization — onto our team to help us approach this work in a new way; one that was decolonial, free of our own existing presumptions, and built on trusting relationships from the very first step. Jade guided us towards establishing connections with communities and taking the time to learn from community members about ways in which Simbi Foundation could meaningfully and respectfully support their educational goals and programs through technology.
Jade proposed we begin by collaborating and consulting with some Stó:lō communities members in the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver. And so began a series of consultations, surveys, and interviews, during which we prioritised learning from elders, teachers, leadership, and other members of Xwchíyó:m (Cheam), Sq’ewqeyl (Skowkale), Sxwoyehà:là (Squiala), and Ch’iyaqtel (Tzeachten) communities about their goals, programs, and vision for education in their communities. These consultations highlighted a key area to which Simbi Foundation could contribute to the existing efforts of communities: language learning and revival.
While the oppression, forced assimilation, and erasure of Indigenous people and culture under Canada’s colonial history has pushed many of the precious 60 Indigenous languages spoken across Canada into varying levels of precarity, communities, elders, and teachers are working tirelessly to grow their ancestral languages and teach them to the next generations.
And the more we learned about the realities facing these languages, and the efforts of these communities to grow and revive them, the more we were passionate about supporting these language efforts to the best of our ability as an organisation.
Jade began organising and facilitating language workshops with some Stó:lō elders, teachers, and youth, with a goal to create short, beginner Halq’eméylem language books to support teachers and students at the nearby Squiala Elementary School.
Once written, that’s where Simbi Foundation comes in. We digitised these books into unique “read-along” books hosted on Simbi, a reading technology platform born out of previous Simbi Foundation research. Once uploaded, each book is then narrated by an elder or teacher, ultimately creating an immersive and engaging reading experience in which school students or other community readers choose the digital Halq’eméylem book they want to read, and then choose the community narration they would like to listen along to.
So far, the Halq’eméylem library on Simbi has over 30 read-along books, all of which we are proud to say have been created and narrated by community members and filled with the content that community members want their next generations to learn.
Collaboration with Squiala Elementary School
As these Halq’eméylem books were being created, we began deepening our collaboration with Squiala Elementary School, with a goal to learn how Simbi Foundation could help ensure that this new digital library of community-made Halq’eméylem learning materials was easy to access in the school’s classrooms for both individual learning and group work.
Together, we began planning a pilot technology kit, which would contain 30 reading tablets, 30 headphones, and a portable charging cart for easy storage. Easy to transport between classrooms, and including shortcut QR links to the Halq’eméylem Simbi library, the technology kit was designed to help students and teachers quickly access the community-created books and engage in a positive reading and language experience when it best suited their learning objectives and goals.
In April 2022, we visited Squiala Elementary and presented the pilot technology kit to the school’s teachers, demonstrating how to access the Simbi platform and the Halq’eméylem library with the new technology to support their in-school language learning program and goals.
Check out the video below, made by Best Buy to see students at Squiala Elementary School use their new reading tablets to read Halq’eméylem books on the Simbi reading platform! In 2021, we came across a Best Buy funding opportunity (School Tech Grants) which supports schools in BC purchase and integrate technology into their classrooms. Squiala Elementary leadership completed a successful application with support from Simbi Foundation, and Best Buy provided funds to the school for the 30 tablets to be included in the technology kit in 2022.
After another school visit in September 2022, we were thrilled to learn from school leadership that many students at the school have been thoroughly enjoying the Halq’eméylem books on Simbi, and engage with them on an almost daily basis as a supplementary learning activity! And even more excitingly, the library is still growing, with another 20 community-created books on the way.
A New Collaboration: Nawalakw Healing Society
From our work at Squiala Elementary School, we were inspired to grow the project and try to support other language learning initiatives using a similar approach. In early 2022, we began an exciting collaboration with Nawalakw Healing Society, an organisation based between Bond Sound and Alert Bay in Kwakwaka’wakw territory which provides culture, language, and healing programming to its peoples and youth.
After several months of preliminary discussion with Nawalakw leadership, we decided to collaborate on the creation of a new digital library of beginner books to support Nawalakw’s educational programs to grow and nurture the Kwak̓wala language, the ancestral language of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples. In July 2022, Simbi Foundation presented the read-along book experience and book creation tools and approaches at an onboarding session with the Nawalakw team, elders, and the community youth hired by Nawalakw for the summer period.
The next step was to create the books! The youth at Nawalakw Healing Society collaborated with elders and language speakers to write, edit, and narrate Kwak̓wala language books. After the completion of each book, they were shared with our team to be processed and uploaded to the Simbi platform before community narration could begin.
Excitingly, the Kwak̓wala Simbi library already includes twenty-five beginner-friendly vocabulary books. We hope that this collection of books will support Nawalakw’s efforts to document and grow the Kwak̓wala language.
To support the creation of land-based language, culture and healing programs, please visit: nawalakw.com
Simbi Foundation is honoured to have collaborated with Indigenous communities in British Columbia to support the language-learning initiatives in community schools and learning spaces through reading technology and software tools. We are excited to continue these collaborations and relationships, and to continue growing the Halq’eméylem and Kwak̓wala language libraries with more books and narrations, creating more digital spaces for learners to engage with their ancestral languages through technology.
We express our gratitude to each of the members of the Stó:lō communities (Sxwoyehà:là, Sq’ewqeyl, Ch’iyàqtel, and Xwchíyò:m) who have contributed to this work so far. Special thanks to Vivian Williams, Lakota Julian, Wenona Hall, Danielle Munroe, Jonathan Williams, Amy Victor, Herb Joe, Carrie Lynn Victor, Steffany Munshaw, and Jade Victor for their guidance and contributions.
We also sincerely thank the Nawalakw Healing Society for making our collaboration possible. We especially thank Margaret Wilson, Deanna, Brendan, and Caelan Nicolson, Danielle Barnes, Naomi Triebwasser, Kris Taylor and every other elder and youth who has been involved with creating these books. We are excited to continue this collaboration into the future.
Finally, we thank the Betty Averbach Foundation, RBC Foundation, and Best Buy for making these projects possible through their generous contributions.
To learn more about our recent work supporting Indigenous languages in British Columbia, visit https://simbifoundation.org/work-in-bc.