Until I began to learn my language, I didn’t realize that a part of my identity was missing.
As a Dene person affected by residential school intergenerational trauma, I was never taught to speak my language. My grandmother – we called her Mama -- was a residential school survivor and never taught her children or grandchildren her language of Dëne Dédlıné. Mama felt ashamed of her language and deemed it unnecessary, even a hindrance, to her children’s future success. I’ve come to realize that language is a huge part of someone’s identity and, for myself, that identity is fractured.
Learning my Indigenous language is an extremely emotional process, but a very healing one as well. To get to the language learning, I had to put in a lot of work to heal myself first. My family is originally from Rocher River. Growing up in Yellowknife, I was physically disconnected from my community and my people. I went to non-Indigenous schools and most of my friends were non-Indigenous. I never felt connected to my Indigenous culture. However, I didn’t realize I felt this way until I started to learn my language.
And as I began my language learning journey, I was also deeply affected by grief. I connect my Indigenous language to Mama; she was the last person in our family to be fluent in our language. We lost Mama when I was 14 years old, and it wasn’t until I started this journey that I realized the unresolved grief I’d been holding onto. I now recognize that I was also grieving the fact that I didn’t have my language and I was going to have to put in so much effort to learn it. This also brought out a lot of anger. I was angry that our language was taken away from us in such a traumatic way, and that I now had to put in years of intense effort to reclaim it. All these emotions: loss of identity, grief, and anger had been hidden within me. Learning my language brought them to the surface and allowed me the chance to face them and begin to heal.
I feel so blessed to be living in a time where we no longer feel ashamed of our languages and, in fact, our Indigenous languages are now starting to be celebrated. Learning my language feels empowering. I am taking an active step towards decolonization. I often felt that concepts such as decolonization and reconciliation were untouchable as they are so deeply institutionalized. I thought that it would take an overhaul of the systems to make any noticeable differences. Now, I see that is not true. By learning my language I am doing something to take back the power and embrace my Indigeneity.
- Jordee Reıd súlye. Dëne ts'ı̨́ Ɂane heslı̨. Dëne Dédlıné yatı burésdı̨.
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