The meme that changed Jared Qwustenuxun Williams’ life

Reading this post the other day from Jared Qwustenuxun Williams on Facebook made me think of some of my wonderful friends, who stopped waiting, cleared their throats and stepped into a scary place. So much love and respect for all of those working to sing life back into their languages, by letting it be sung through them. Even when the tune feels hard to get. Even when it feels terrifying.

This meme changed my life,

Years ago I saw this elder standing in this field with this caption and didn’t look back. I am not fluent, I am not an expert, I didn’t go to any school for Hul’q’umi’num. But the words I know, I share. You may not get big long sentences or paragraphs in Hul’q’umi’num from me. But I have gained a good grasp on our sounds, place names, plant names, and stories. 

But, for some reason I didn’t feel like I was allowed to share, maybe my anxiety or self doubt held me back. But this simple meme broke that wall. And in just a few years I can’t believe how many elders, community members, and settlers, have all thanked me for my work.

As always all I can say is, these words, stories, and teachings do not belong to me. They belong to the land, the ancestors, and the elders. So thank them, and thank this meme for giving me the much needed push over the edge, from thought to action.

And if you have a language to save, maybe let these words help you to ignite your passion. Because if my story is any indicator, you’ll never imagine how much can change when you just start doing what you love.

Jared Qwustenuxun Williams

PS I wanted to add a post-script to this after a lovely comment on my Facebook feed about this meme from the wise and awesome Kwikws Elizabeth Peters, that helped land this in a multi-generational context, in a way that honours those who came before, and spoke kindly to some of the harm of my initial “clever-sounding” caption about lifting up friends who “decided to become the ones they’d been waiting for.”

She commented:

“It is such a powerful place to be. Just one generation above me, they got beaten for speaking the language. They never gave up though. And now my children are safe to learn it at school, here at home 💝 what a statement.”

Kwikws Elizabeth Peters

Kukstum’kacw, Kwikws Eliza…

That “void” that is alluded to in the post, or in my caption/comment, didn’t come about by choice, or by people “failing” to step up. It was the result of intentional destruction of culture and language, by harming small humans and physically punishing and assaulting them for speaking their language.

The stories I have heard from Wanostsa Dr Lorna Williams, about founding the Xetolacw Community School, where Lil’wat children are now able to safely learn their language (through some of the people I was hoping to lift up, with my comment, and also shout-out to the language teachers at the Ts’zil Learning centre), is that the school was founded by community members who survived those places that abused them for speaking their language, and arose out their intention to create a safe place for learning – many things, including language. It was an absolutely ground-breaking feat at the time. So many people contribute to a resistance, to a renaissance.

She shared, “We as indigenous peoples have a lot of trauma to unpack and to be actively filled up with healthy self esteem, as that’s something else that was taken from us, before we can speak our native tongues out loud. I didn’t need to be at the residential schools to feel the impact, the lock and ball that was stuck in my chest for most of my life tells me that my blood remembers. And with loving kindness and gentleness and fun, I can now comfortably speak my intro. It took so many years to get here. I’m proud of every single bit of the opportunities to get here and my wish is for all peoples to feel safe to live traditional life that includes traditional language.”

Yes to this prayer! May the land be filled with its language again, the language of this land, may people BE safe to live traditional life with traditional language, and may my own words contribute to healing, not harm, and may there always be people with the grace Kwikws Eliza showed to help nudge me towards more careful and constructive languaging myself. ❤

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