By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Residential schools stripped Indigenous people of their culture, their identity, their language. Chief Donald Sam of Akisqnuk First Nation shared that the Ktunaxa language is a language isolate, which means there is no other language like it in the world. The impact of residential schools has made this language critically endangered.

Aiyana Twigg of Tobacco Plains Nation graduated from the from the four-year First Nations Languages and Anthropology program at University of British Columbia (UBC) this past May. There, she was awarded the 2022 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy, and Reconciliation. When the pandemic began, Twigg started up the Instagram account, @KtunaxaPride, to bring together those who were feeling disconnected with one another. 

“I had the privilege of growing up on reserve and learning from elders and community members. I was able to learn our languages and our cultural practices,” said Twigg. “Our Ktunaxa language is critically endangered; there’s only 20 fluent speakers left. It’s very critical that this work is done. I wanted to support my community by gaining knowledge and skills to support them with that language revitalization. I wanted to make that knowledge available and accessible to them. I decided to use Instagram to cater more towards the youth in my community. It also became a place for non-Indigenous people to learn more about the Indigenous communities and for non-Ktunaxa people living on our territories to learn about us.” 

The account @KtunaxaPride became an inspiration to many different First Nations, giving them a desire to delve deeper into their own histories with pride and discover their own cultural knowledge. 

“It now has encouraged all of these other groups of people to start learning their own culture, which was really heartwarming, and something that was unexpected for me,” said Twigg.

Twigg shared she is truly proud and moved by all the hard work that the Ktunaxa First Nation has done to be where they are today. To keep pushing, teaching, and practicing traditional practices and her language, is important to her, as she knows it is important to her community. When Twigg returns to school after her hiatus she will be doing research on the Ktunaxa writing system. She then plans to follow up with her Masters in linguistics with a focus on language revitalization. She sees the 2022 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal she was bestowed on May 25 not only as a recognition all her hard work, but as a reflection of hard work the people within her community are doing to revitalize and reconcile. 

I believe that language revitalization plays a big part in the truth and reconciliation journey. Language is at the heart of who we are as Indigenous people. Language has always been a part of who we are,” said Twigg. “Language also played a big role in the Indian Residential School system. The priests, nuns, and government saw that our languages were a major part of our identity as Indigenous people. It was how we communicated, how we understood the world, and how we practiced our way of life. They saw this and took it away.  By revitalizing our languages, we are reclaiming who we are. We are reclaiming our culture, our identity, and our practices. We are doing exactly what they didn’t want us to do. By revitalizing our languages, we are finding the power in ourselves to be who we are again which many have lost for such a long time. We are finally finding our voice again.”