Growing up, all I ever spoke was English. I heard my mom often say odd words in other languages that I later found out were Cree and Inuktitut . My father hosted radio shows and always talked to my grannie in a language I never understood: Chipewyan. My father is a residential school survivor. He was shamed for speaking his language. He decided not to teach us how to speak Chipewyan for fear that we would also be shamed for speaking it.
Today I am 27 years old and bilingual. I speak English and Spanish. I work a lot in advocating for the importance of revitalizing and strengthening our Indigenous language and culture. In fact, my work is what brought me to learn Spanish. I was accepted for a four-month international internship in Latin America. Long story short, I fell in love with a man who doesn’t speak English. Now, two-and-a- half years later, I can speak, read and write Spanish. My next goal is to learn Chipewyan.
I fondly remember my father telling me stories about the importance of speaking our language because there are elders out there who count on it. Elders who don’t speak English. For a long time, I was shy to speak the little I knew because of the way people would look at me.
Now, I can introduce myself and tell all my family that I love them in Chipewyan. It’s small steps that lead the way to revitalizing language and culture. Take a song you always sing with your children, or a book you read to them, and translate it into your language. Learn one word a day and after a year you’ve learnt 365. Be strong within yourself and never let anyone shame you for trying.
Photography and editing by Heather Fryer from VOH Photography.
Hair and makeup by Deonna Fetzko at Aurora Hair and Makeup Artistry .
Ribbon skirt by Candia Flynn of Healing Stitches.
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