The United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages.
My friend, a gifted linguist and world traveller, commented the other day that she drives through Mount Currie every day. In any other country she might have travelled, she would have tried to learn a few local phrases, or at the very least, a greeting, as she passed through a community. We wondered aloud why it has not occurred to us, until now, that this is an important gesture of respect, right here, in the place we choose to live.
It makes us feel uncomfortable. The idea of getting it wrong. Of mispronouncing things. Of having to ask six, seven, fifty-eleven (as my 5 year old would say) times, to try and hold onto the sound of a word. Of possibly insulting people. Of not having an “out”, not being able to get it wrong and then get on a plane and never really have to deal with that again. Of having to go a bit deeper into exploring the part we play in social injustice.
And that feeling, of being uncomfortable, often makes us put on the blindfold and the headphones and pretend nothing is happening…
And yet. Here we are.
Like it or not.
The UN writes:
Indigenous languages matter for social, economic and political development, peaceful coexistence and reconciliation in our societies. Yet many of them are in danger of disappearing. It is for this reason that the United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages in order to encourage urgent action to preserve, revitalize and promote them.
In the Lil’wat Nation’s 2018 Annual Report, Chief and Council expressed their enthusiasm for hearing Ucwalmicwts echo throughout the community.
Writes Kúkwpi7 Skalúlmecw Chief Dean Nelson:
In 2017/18, I saw the positive effects of Ucwalmícwts reclamation in our schools, our communications, and at the council table.
Chiefs and councillors have reclaimed our Líl wat names and share them at meetings and gatherings.
At Xet ólacw Community School our children are learning our prayer in our language. And in the halls of Úllus, Ucwalmícwts words and phrases can be heard. It sounds beautiful.
Language is key to who we are. It is the foundation of our culture. By learning our language we gain a greater understanding of Ntákmen (Our Way). Through understanding what Nt ákmen and Nxékmen (Our Laws) were, we can better envision our future.
It is my deepest belief that our path forward can be found in the wisdom of our Ancestors, our cultural traditions and our spirituality revived through the practices of honour and gratitude.
What would it look like if everyone in our broader community made a commitment or New Year’s resolution to learn at least one phrase in Ucwalmicwts for 2019?