My friend Lisa holds a particular grief, as a mother, a kid-lover, a sweet-hearted human, a childcare worker and childcare centre manager, and as the daughter of a N’Quatqua woman, that she doesn’t innately know the Ucwalmícwts word for baby.
It doesn’t come naturally for her to say, “ohh hello baby”, in her mother tongue.
There was a break in the transmission of that language, in her lineage.
It was not a break that was chosen by her lineage.
It was just endured, survived.
Lisa grew up speaking English.
So, now Lisa is stepping way out of her comfort zone, to become a language learner and a language champion. To help repair that.
One way she is doing this is through t-shirts.
I am proud to wear the shirt I bought that reads Áma s7ats̓xentsína! It is not an easy phrase for me to sound out, but I practice it over and over.
There are sophistications in the language that mean that phrase applies when one person greets one person. If I want to say it to a group, my tongue will work even harder.
“It’s still a pandemic,” she told me. “I wanted to wrap my arms around the moms, more than ever, and give them more than a flower. It needed to be more, more medicine, a way of saying I believe in you. Because when we briefly see each other outside, by the gas station, the Áma s7ats̓xentsína! t-shirt has been a conversation piece, something to talk about other than the pandemic.”
The kernel of inspiration is in the First People’s Cultural Council advice. Item number 1, in the 5 Ways to Include More Language in Your Life:
learn a traditional greeting in your language and use it with everyone you meet.
Not everyone has an Ucwalmícwts skwátsits (name), but one can add a term of endearment or a kinship word, like snuwa, “you”, or who you are in this community – mother, grandmother, cousin, friend, girl. It’s a way to recognize each other as Ucwalmícwts people, and to amp up the greeting practice, to use that first phrase as the building block.
Lisa notes that she often hears the word for grandmother, Kwékwa7.
“I have some sadness over the fact that the word “baby” doesn’t come naturally to me. And I don’t often hear the word for grandfather, brother, sister, cousin, aunty, or baby. I was thinking about my grandparents, when all their kids were gone away to residential school and the rez would have been so quiet, and when they came back, they didn’t encourage them to learn how to say, hello my girl!
But I still hear the matriarchs honoured.”
It makes her think of the Cheyenne proverb:
“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then its finished; no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons.”
So, they’ll begin with the women. Remembering the terms of kinship and endearment that weave them, powerfully, into belonging together, as the descendants of Ucwalmícwts-speaking ancestors.
Then, there will be a t-shirt for the grandpas and the dads, the brothers and the husbands.
Then, one for the youth.
Then one for the kiddos, who are last, because they’re at the heart of the circle, they’re the centre of the story. And because, “we need to build up our bravery and build up our muscles, so we can greet the babies in Ucwalmícwts, so they’re surrounded by language.”
You might need a cheat sheet, and it might be a onesie with the word s7ícwalh across the baby’s chest, but that will be okay. The baby won’t know any better.
1 free t-shirt is being offered to all N’Quatqua women – members on and off reserve, those living or working in N’Quatqua and women whose children attend the daycare.
Order for your matriarchs, if they’re not as tech savvy as you are.
By the end of May.
And any other friends and allies and uplifters of women and of language, are invited to buy one for themselves, or a friend, for $9.95. If you’d like to buy one, use this link: https://urstore.ca/group/nquatqua-woman-t-shirt-paid
ucwalmicwts t-shirt #2: women
To restore fluency in ucwalmicwts we are printing a series of t-shirts featuring: family members. ucwalmicwts t-shirt #2 is for women. When the women’s t-shirts are done we will do t-shirt #3: men, then t-shirt #4: youth and finishing off our series with t-shirt #5: children.
Are you a woman who is:
- An off-reserve N’Quatqua member?
- Living in N’Quatqua? OR working in N’Quatqua?
- Your child attends N’Quatqua Child & Family Development Centre?
If so, you are eligible to receive one FREE ucwalmicwts t-shirt.
The t-shirt will have the following written in ucwalmicwts. (English will not be on the t-shirt.)
|Syáqtsa7 (woman)||Kwékwa7 (grandmother)|
|Skícza7 (mother)||Sta7 (aunt)|
|Kíka7 (girl, woman)||Sem7ám (wife)|
|Snúk̓wa7 (relative, friend)|
Follow the link to see the t-shirt and place your order.
This offer is available until May 31, 2021.
Questions ? email: email@example.com
Kukwstum̓úlhkal̓ap: thank you (more people to more people)
N’Quatqua Child and Family Development Centre