During my Master of Education program, I read an article in which the author speculated that the future belonged not to monolingual English speakers, but to multilingual people who could better understand and converse with people from different language backgrounds. I keep that in mind when profiling multilingual friends and acquaintances.
Here I am happy to introduce Khelsilem, who has devoted himself to learning the language of his ancestors, as he says, and developing a community of speakers.
You in a sentence?
I’m a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-Kwakwa̱ka’wa̱kw educator from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Learn to say Sḵwx̱wú7mesh with Khelsilem’s video here.
What’s your first language, and your relationship to it?
My first language is the English language. I was raised by my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who all spoke English as a first language. However, my great-grandparents were all first language speakers of the Squamish Language and Kwak̓wala. I personally think English is a fascinating language that can do many amazing things, but as I’ve learned more languages I can see what it can’t do as well as other languages.
What other languages do you speak, and how did you learn them?
Squamish Language, hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, and a bit of ASL. I learned the Squamish Language as an adult starting around when I was 19 years old. It was a dream of mine since I was a young kid to be a speaker of my people’s language. I grew up watching other people speak foreign languages with each other on the bus or skytrain and wanted the same for myself but in the language of my ancestors. I learned Squamish by doing an immersion mentorship with a highly proficient speaker from my community.
What things are you most interested in right now in the world of language learning and teaching?
I am most interested in proficiency testing, best practices, and compliance. What are the best practices for creating language speakers, and are we holding ourselves to that standard? I think this is the future of language regeneration.
If you could change one thing about your community, Vancouver, BC, or Canada, what would it be?
I would create more housing for my people so more of our people can live together and be a community.
I’m also the Project Director for the Indigenous Language Workers Project to explore creating a national association of language workers to unite and mobilize Indigenous language teachers, instructors, curriculum developers, and more.