By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
The Ktunaxa Literacy Day is on October 24 — a day to celebrate and give importance to one of the world’s most unique and isolated languages.
“To be able to carry something that was lost in my family two generations ago, to be able to stand with others that speak it, and to be able to carry our words forward means everything to me. It’s a way to give back to my grandmothers and grandfathers who are no longer here,” said Mara Nelson, a Traditional Knowledge and Language Support worker from Ktunaxa Nation.
Nelson has been learning the Ktunaxa language for the past three years with Nukin’ka ?akc’ika?is and Alfred Joseph, the Lower Mainland Ktunaxa Language Learners and Vi Birdstone and Leanna Gravelle-Twigg a respected mentor from the Ktunaxa Nation.
Learning the language has affected her identity and everything she has been doing now. “This is significant and it is empowering. It enables me to be stronger in who I am; it brings back a family connection to not just me but many other family members. It helps us recognize our future, while cherishing and honouring our family’s history,” Nelson said. “And it’s something that I will continue doing for the rest of my life.”
It is thought that only 215 people in Canada fluently spoke the language. But Nelson is uncertain as to how many.
Mara helps facilitate a Ktunaxa language course with Joseph every Monday night, where the class is filled with hopeful people willing to learn the language. Learning any language is quite difficult, but since this language is part of her identity, Nelson pulls from her history and that helps ease the learning curveballs.
“I have a drive and a desire because it is part of my being. It is part of my DNA, part of me becoming a whole person. So it’s not that it’s not difficult,” she added. “Its just something I enjoy more than the struggle! I enjoy working in the schools and sharing my teachings . . . there is jubilation in having elementary students share the language with their peers. Those have been my most cherished moments.”
On Ktunaxa Literacy Day, Nelson encourages everyone to learn the Ktunaxa greeting and the Ktunaxa place names of the towns we live — in doing so we breathe the language to its lands while ensueing its reciprocal relationship continues in many ways.
“It will be spread from one end to the other. My great grandchildren will be speaking Ktunaxa. There’ll be bookshelves full and we will have many songs being sung. We will see it on TV, in Ktunaxa made movies and in video games.
It will be living and breathing,” Nelson said of the language’s future.
?akukin means to try or to attempt or do something in the Ktunaxa language. This is Nelson’s favourite word this month.
“It’s an easy word, but it has so much in it. If I weren’t open to trying every day, I wouldn’t be able to speak our language – for a small word, it is pretty mighty.”
Nelson said there is no word for endangered in Ktunaxa, and they “intend to keep it that way.”
People who are interested in learning about the language can contact Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org