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