Dr Lorna Williams’ address on how universities can support indigenous language revitalization

There’s a reason Dr Lorna Williams is such a sought-after speaker – she’s an authority in indigenous language revitalization, but she’s always such a wonderful teacher and storyteller. I’m so grateful this presentation, that she gave in 2017, was recorded, and that we can share it here. I marvel at the unrelenting patience she has shown over her career, trying to translate between two cultures – to explain to Universities, governments, settlers, why something that matters so intrinsically, matters. Her ability to put deep gut feelings into words have made her an unbelievable advocate and change-maker. I personally think she should be a household name.

“Our languages are precious to us. We need to WORK together, to keep our languages strong. Indigenous languages, the languages of our land, of each of our lands, are spoken nowhere else on the planet, so when they go, they’re wiped from the land. And we cannot let that happen.

There are right now public debates about whether our languages should continue. And I want to remind every settler, past and present, who are making their lives on this land, that you exist on land where a language was born. And you, as a settler have the responsiblity to where you make your home today.

Our languages are the voice of our lands. And our relationship with the land, the air, the water, and all that reside and take sustenance from that land. Our languages keep our connections to the ancestors, it’s the voice of our ancestors that we hear when we hear our languages spoken and when we speak the languages we can make those connections. They’re our connections to the descendants, it’s the legacy, wisdom and knowledge that we leave those who come after us, and we need to keep clear about those responsibliities that we have to our descendants.

I have university credentials but these are my true credentials for speaking about language revitalization: I have known language loss. I have known what it’s like not to be able to communicate, not to have a voice, not to be understood, not to be able to make myself understood. I know what that feels like. It’s where I lived and my community that helped me when I came back from residential school and my spirit was broken, it was the old people who I lived amongst, who recognised it and did something about it. So I relearned my language.

Because of residential school, I ended up in the hospital for 4 months and I had to learn English. So at a very young age, I think I had an understanding of language that very few people had. I became an interpreter, not knowing that’s what I was doing.

There are so many wonderful insights in this presentation. Treat yourself to it.

And learn this beautiful insight from Ucwalmictws: the word for family, community, gathering, and nature is the same: snu’kwnu’kwa7.

The root of that word is nuk, to help and be helped.

That’s a way of thinking worth spreading around, worth revitalizing, worth increasing fluency in.

Kukwstumkacw, Dr Williams!

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