By Julia Magsombol 

Local Journalism Initiative 

julia@columbiavalleypioneer.com

They say that language is part of a culture, but it may also be something that defines ourselves.

This is how many Ktunaxa felt while attending the Ktunaxa Literacy Day celebration on October 23 and 24 at St. Eugene Resort. 

“It’s been part of who I am,” said Vickie Thomas, the director of the Traditional Knowledge and Language sector at Ktunaxa Nation Council. 

Thomas attended the meaningful event and is one of the main organizers. She said this is truly a celebration of the language. 

“We need to focus on bringing back our language every single day, not just Literacy Day” she added. 

On the night of October 23, a key panel of orators like Charlene George from the Squamish Nation, Bonnie Harvey from ?Aq’am, and Barbara Fisher from the ?akisq’nuk First Nation spoke about language revitalization and their language journey. 

“Everybody was feeling rejuvenated afterwards. Everybody was excited,” Thomas added. 

On October 24, the date of Ktunaxa Literacy Day, people listened to Ktunaxa songs and stories. Seven elders who are fluent in Ktunaxa also spoke. It was truly a gift to the participants to hear them speak.

One of the presenters was Caitlin Sherwood, who embraces the Ktunaxa language as a learner. In fact, she hopes to incorporate the language into different games such as Dungeons and Dragons. 

Going back in time, the first Ktunaxa Literacy Day was declared in 1994. But in terms of the gathering and celebration, this was the first time the language was celebrated together as Ktunaxa n’intik in a very long time.

There are fewer than 10 people who are considered fluent in the Ktunaxa language, which is a critically endangered language.

“It was just such a heartfelt, emotional day. I’m a dedicated learner, but this is just to ensure that I know that I’m on the right path. Sometimes it’s a lonely road, there’s a lot of work to do, but these moments are the fuel that is needed to keep us going,” said Mara Nelson, the Traditional Knowledge and Language support educator from Ktunaxa Nation.

Nelson attended the event, saying we are responsible for how the language lives on for another thousand years. 

“There was a lot of laughter, and there were some times when the emotions were very high,” she added. “It was just a phenomenal experience, and to be in that room with that many incredible language speakers, and our knowledge keepers, it was just the biggest gift.” 

And in every gift, there is a celebration behind it. 

“Literacy Day is for celebration and reminding ourselves to celebrate and enjoy the knowledge that we can learn,” Thomas said. 

She mentioned that her grandmother was a Ktunaxa speaker, so the Ktunaxa language has been very close and important to her. She is still a learner and is trying to learn the language through Alfred Joseph’s class, a respected Elder from ?akiq’nuk – Ktunaxa Nation. Nelson is also learning the language with them. 

“Instilling that appreciation for the language . . . it’s been in my entire life,” Thomas said. 

?aqanmiyit su?kni ?uk’tuqakwum is Thomas’ favourite phrase in Ktunaxa. It means every day is a good day to speak Ktunaxa.

Nelson added: “It grounded me personally; it grounded me in the work that I know I’m going to want to focus on.” 

To read more about the Ktunaxa language and Nelson’s story, visit https://www.columbiavalleypioneer.com/ktunaxa-language-being-preserved/

Thomas and Nelson are confident that the language will continue to be spoken for thousands of years.