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Francophone teachers in British Columbia

| Francophonie, Unionization

One day, says the legend, there was a huge forest fire. All terrified animals, aghast, watched helplessly. Only the small hummingbird was busy, fetching a few drops with its beak to throw on the fire.

After a while, the armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous agitation, said: “Hummingbird! Are you not mad?
It is not with these drops of water that you will put out the fire!”

And the hummingbird replied: “I know, but I’m doing my share.”

Native American Legend

Like the hummingbird whose tenacity is so often praised in African and American Native legends, Francophone teachers in British Columbia throw their drops of water day after day to extinguish the fire of assimilation and allow British Columbia’s Francophonie to flourish.

The Syndicat des enseignantes et enseignants du programme francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (SEPF) represents over 450 teachers working in 37 schools throughout the province from western Port Alberni to eastern Fernie, and from northern Terrace to Nelson and to southern Vancouver.

This is a major challenge, but, as our logo suggests, the hummingbird is our symbol, unanimously chosen by our members!

Executive Committee Members
Back row (left to right): Linda Thériault, Stéphane Bélanger, and Daniel Bouchard
Front row (left to right): Faziah Gamaz, Sylvie Liechtele, Denise Branter, and Maria Stinchcombe.

The Francophonie in British Columbia

In British Columbia, 298,695 people can hold a conversation in French. Among them, 70,755 consider French alone or French and another language to be their mother tongues.

Historically, French speakers have played an important role in the founding of British Columbia and the history of the whole Pacific Northwest region. In fact, they are the ones who made sure that British Columbia would not become part of the United States — a rather surprising fact revealed by Professor Jean Barman, University of British Columbia, in his book entitled French Canadians, Furs and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press).

Francophonie, here, is therefore special and the result of the efforts made by many committed people.

What is today’s British Columbia Francophonie made of?

According to Claire Trépanier, Director, Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs, Simon Fraser University, [translation] “young French speakers in British Columbia have a multiple identity and are culturally multilingual.” This is a typically Canadian phenomenon that attracts more and more attention from researchers.

Also, Rémi Léger, expert on Canadian Francophonie and assistant professor of Political Science at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, says that [translation] “Franco-Columbians today form a new community, one that still needs to build itself, entering a new phase, starting a new generation.”

British Columbia’s Syndicat des enseignantes et enseignants du programme francophone (SEPF)

In an context where French speakers no longer have their own established historical communities, but are part of a diaspora with multiple faces, SEPF is proud to continue carrying the Francophonie flame in the province as it works to make French speakers, once a majority in the province, more and more recognized.

At the union level for example, in 2013, SEPF negotiated a clause recognizing French as the reference language for all clauses negotiated locally in French. It has also gained in 2012 the right for its members to express themselves in French at general meetings held by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, which SEPF is part of.

Through its initiatives, SEPF works to make French recognized and respected.

At the professional level, together with British Columbia’s French-language school board — the Conseil scolaire francophone — SEPF organizes an important annual provincial gathering called Rond-Point. The first such meeting was held in 1999 at Shawnigan Lake, on Vancouver Island, one year after SEPF’s creation (it was then called ADEF). Since then, every year SEPF gives its teachers the opportunity to meet, talk and connect during a one-day professional development event while affirming their Francophone identity.

This year, the Rond-Point’s theme was: “Ensemble, ressourçons-nous” (Together, let’s recharge our batteries), featuring speaker Laurence Mercier who gave a presentation on “mindfulness”.

Rond-Point 2015
Photo from Rond-Point 2015

In recent years, SEPF also started another professional development initiative with the creation of three social justice awards to encourage projects in this area by French-speaking teachers.

To conclude, SEPF’s community of French-speaking hummingbirds strives to make sure that Francophonie on the Pacific Coast continues to flourish in all its diversity. To do so, it is crucial that we tighten our connection with other French-speaking communities in Canada and in the world, so we can share common challenges and issues.

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