By Rachael Bowser / Cultural Coordinator, Simpcw First Nation

Tiffany Bowser harvests birch bark to use for basket making. /ANGIE RAINER

Simpcw (formerly known as the North Thompson Indian Band) are a division of the Secwepemc Nation which is made up of 17 bands that are located in the interior of BC.

Simpcw Territory covers approximately 5,000,000 hectares that spans from the upper watersheds of the Fraser, Columbia, Smokey, and Athabaska Rivers, and all of the North Thompson River watershed to just south of McLure.

Simpcw speak the western dialect of Secwepemctsín, which is a part of the Interior Salish language family. Traditionally, Secwepemctsín was strictly an oral language so no written records have been kept. It was recognized that, In order to preserve and teach the language, a written form of Secwepemctsín was needed and an alphabet was created using the English alphabet. The outcome has been the development of a, Secwepemctsín alphabet, consisting of 43 letters and the pronunciation of these letters is phonetically different from the English pronunciation.

For example, the “cw” sound in Simpcw is a sound made by rounding your lips, raising the back of your tongue and pushing air out of your mouth. Additionally, the letter “i” in Secwepemctsín is pronounced like an English “ee.” To pronounce Simpcw, you would say “seemp” then make the lip rounded air sound.

This difference in phonetics makes it hard for people to learn the language. To make things even more difficult, there are very few fluent speakers left and many of these individuals are elderly. As a result, not only is the language hard to learn, but the lack of available fluent speakers limits the opportunity to teach Secwepemctsín.

However, Simpcw has always made an effort to make language and culture a priority within the community. We have two language teachers who go into Neqweyqwelsten (Neh-qwuh-qwel-sten) School to teach language on a weekly basis. We also have a newly established Language & Culture department that provides language and culture events to the community. We use these events to help community members connect with language, and the land, in a way that is safe and fun.

To this day, Simpcw community members still hunt, fish, and gather in the same spots as their ancestors, using the same methods used by their ancestors.

This takes them all across Simpcw Territory, reconnecting them with many places that hold cultural significance as valued resources or as sites of historical importance. As a result, not only are Simpcw knowledgeable of the area surrounding their community of Chu Chua, but they are knowledgeable of all of the Simpcw Territory.