Yesterday I spent most of the day honouring people who have worked for decades to preserve and grow the Skwxu7mesh language. I’m on the advisory board of an organization called Kwi Awt Stelmexw, which supports Skwxumesh language learning and fluency. Kwi Awt Stelmexw translates roughly as “everyone who is here in the present moment” meaning ancestors and descendants. It is for these people that we are all doing our work.
There are only a handful of fully fluent Skwu7mesh speakers currently. When I say a handful, I mean 7. My friend Khelsilem has been ramping up fluency capacity with an immersion program at Simon Fraser University and we are now about to witness the graduation of that first cohort of 14 people who are well on their way in their fluency journey.
Yesterday Khelsilem hosted a ceremony to honour everyone who had done so much to keep the language alive, and who had brought us to this point where we can build a fluent future.
During the ceremony yesterday several speakers shared their thoughts and a few powerful images came to mind. Chief Ian Campbell talked about the return of the herring to our inlet, Atl’kitsem (Howe Sound) which has signalled a shift in the story that people have about this place. People are beginning to harvest herring eggs again using the old practice of placing cedar or hemlock bows in the water and allowing the herring to spawn on them
I reflected that alongside the return of the herring comes the return of the language. Just in the last five or six years as we have seen numbers of these fish increasing, we have also seen the use of the Skwxw7mesh language increasing as well. It is as if every herring is a word and every language learner is one more bough placed in the water upon which the language can spawn.