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A cool air blows under the shifting shade of clouds, restoring the deep green of Mount Rossander's old-growth cedars.

The ancient forests wrap around Ditidaht village, a native community of 210 people accessible only by a hazardous two-hour trek that snakes along logging roads 50 kilometres from the nearest paved road at Port Alberni, B.C.

The silence that swallows the little reserve can be unnerving, symbolizing a community that's at risk of losing its own voice.

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"I was about 7 when my mother died, and my father died two years later," said Christine Edgar, an elder who still speaks Ditidaht in her head, but struggles to get the sounds out of her mouth. "All of a sudden I no longer heard the language. There was just nobody to talk to."

It's a familiar story here.

In spite of the Ditidaht's isolation, outside forces have pushed their language toward extinction. With only eight competent speakers left, the Ditidaht language is on the verge of vanishing, along with half of the languages now spoken around the world.

These projections are a concern for Mike Fortescue, a British linguistics professor who has been living on the reserve for two weeks to study and fill in gaps for a 500-page Ditidaht and Wakashan dictionary he's compiling.

"If they lose this, they stand to lose a direct window on their cultural background," the linguist from the University of Copenhagen said. "Of course there are languages in B.C. that have already become extinct, but this is a very endangered language and . . . there is the chance to revive it."

So the Ditidaht are fighting back.

The survival of their language now hinges, perhaps, on three tiny bodies crammed together on a couch in the Asaabus daycare. The giggling children are the first to take part in a Ditidaht language-immersion program that begins in early childhood.

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"Qaatqaat, hiihitakiitl, hi7tap7iq, kakaatqac'ib," recites four-year-old Krissy Edgar, singing and doing actions to a Ditidaht equivalent of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

It has been three years since the band council approved construction of the $4.2-million Ditidaht Community School to teach students their language and culture from kindergarten to Grade 12. Previously, village students were bused out to an English-language school.

Already, the village is astounded by the program's success, Elsie Jeffrey, the language co-ordinator for the 70 children enrolled in the school, said.

"We're doing whatever we can to document what's left. We've put out CDs, DVDs; we're working on digitizing the language on FirstVoices.ca," she said, referring to a website that holds audio records for 15 endangered native communities.

"We just have to do what we can because we're endangered."

Five years ago, Ms. Jeffrey would have been perplexed if an elder greeted her in the native tongue; now she sees children greeting elders in Ditidaht and teens writing short speeches in a language that existed only orally before 2002.

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Last year, the school produced its first high-school graduate, Selina Atleo. The 19-year-old now speaks more Ditidaht than her mother and assists in the daycare language-immersion program.

Elder Mike Thompson, one of four fluent speakers assisting teachers in the school, said that another bright light shines in 14-year-old Daryl Patterson.

"He's one of the ones who actually wants to learn," Mr. Thompson said. "He's one of the ones who takes the language and just sticks with it."

At a cultural exchange with a group of visiting Makah students last year, the quiet, shaggy-haired teenager extended an invitation in a stirring speech in Ditidaht, then repeated it in English.

In the richly expressive tongue of his ancestors, Daryl implored the audience to sample his people's food, participate in ceremonial games and experience his culture. The lengthy address stunned a village that hadn't heard the voice of its youth at a ceremony in years.

"It was such a proud and emotional time for us," Ms. Jeffrey said. "When Daryl got up and just let it out -- just incredible. That was pretty darn cool to see the progress of the kids."

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Ms. Jeffrey, who has been learning the language herself for the past four years, was born on the reserve and raised by a mother who spoke fluent Ditidaht. Dorothy Shepherd, her mother, never abandoned the ancestral language, but rarely spoke it to her children. She believed it was lost.

Only when the band council approved construction of the school did Ms. Shepherd join the effort to save Ditidaht by becoming one of four fluent elders to help teachers at the school.

At 8 a.m. on a Monday, as a group of adult learners still rub the sleep from their eyes, Ms. Shepherd's voice rings clear.

"Remember to pop your 'k,' " she directs. " Baaqiidax7aa7pik."

" Baaqiidax7aa7pik," they repeat. It means, "What are you doing?"

Around the table, the elders discuss the capacity for creating new words and even reinventing their ancient tongue.

They now have Ditidaht terms for "computer" (a translation of "thing with a lot of information") and "refrigerator" (a translation of "cold inside").

Above their heads hangs a 53-character Ditidaht alphabet, a reminder that every student in the room is learning the basics.

Some, like daycare teaching assistants Kelita Sieber and Esther Edgar, are Ditidaht teachers and students themselves.

During a rehearsal of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toe s, Ms. Sieber and Ms. Edgar gave a clumsy rendition and laughed as they tripped over the words.

"Usually it's easier when we do the song with the kids and we can see them," Ms. Sieber whispered.

Later, while little Krissy sang along in the daycare, the two adults leading the troupe stumbled but recovered discreetly.

"La7uu," the child requested as the song ended. "Again."

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