“How can I help” answered concretely

Generally, once people become aware of Indigenous issues in a clear sense, the first question is “how can I help”?

Having faced this question so many times with only vague answers in my head, I have thought a lot about how best to answer this question with something concrete. After all, how does anyone undo generations of colonization, theft of land and resources and deliberate policies to destroy our cultures?

The most comprehensive answer is complex and involves a lot of learning and effort to make change, but the answer can also be simple and immediate:

  1. Believe that Indigenous peoples have the power to find solutions for ourselves.
  2. Support our efforts in ways that ensure the solutions we enact continue to happen.

More and more, when this question is posed to me, I like to give specific examples of Indigenous-led projects that people can support in whatever way that project needs. There are SO. MANY. It is actually staggering once you start to pay attention to the amazing things people are doing in their own communities!

Sometimes these projects need money, sometimes they need materials, sometimes they honestly just need folks there to help wash dishes so that the work can continue. It may not be glorious and glamorous revolution, but in my opinion, on the ground support is worth a thousand political speeches.

So every once in a while on this blog, I am going to promote some of the amazing work that is being done by Indigenous peoples, for those of you who want to help, and are honestly just looking for a way to do it concretely and respectfully.

An Indigenous language immersion…house?

If you have followed this blog at all, you know I am passionate about our Indigenous languages. Support from readers helped me launch the only Plains Cree language class in Quebec, with awesome results. However, true fluency simply cannot happen in the classroom.

So when Khelsilem (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw) began discussing a language immersion project, my ears perked up. The concept is simple, and brilliant:

A small group of young people will live together for twelve months in a language immersion home to commit to becoming fluent speakers of the Skwomesh (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) language. The project involves speaking only this endangered language together with the help of a semi-fluent resident, visiting elders, and fluent speakers.

Boom. This is serious commitment, so much more so than a few hours of studies a week. The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language is among the most endangered Indigenous languages in Canada, and nothing short of superhuman effort is going to stop it from being lost.

skwomesh language houseKhelsilem has some very interesting plans to document the experience, so that this project can be replicated elsewhere. No one is funding this intensive revitalization project, and it absolutely deserves support.

Right now the Skwomesh Language House has a T-Spring campaign that gives people the opportunity to directly support a much needed Indigenous language project that will have tangible, and fairly immediate effects on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language and culture. You can access the campaign here: teespring.com/skwoSḵwx̱wú7mesh languagemeshhouse

The campaign total was set to a very low amount (20 t-shirts) that I think was more about making sure the t-shirts were printed, rather than representing the total funds needed for this project to be possible. As an added bonus, the t-shirt being used to raise funds is hella cool, and you’ll have a fantastic reminder of what it is you are supporting! For $30 you get a great t-shirt, and when people ask you, “How are you helping?” you can tell them, “I’m supporting Indigenous people who have solutions, and who are making change happen, right now.”

tâpwê miywâsin!


Info on one of the minds behind the Skwomesh Language House:
Khelsilem is a traditional Skwo-mesh (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) name given to him by his paternal grandmother in a traditional naming ceremony. In the naming customs of Skwo-mesh society, a person may receive a name that is handed down from an ancestor who carried the name prior.
Khelsilem is an independent creative professional. He was born and raised in his Skwo-mesh homelands on the North Shore of Vancouver. For five years he has been involved in a social, political, cultural movement to reclaim nearly extinct Indigenous languages in British Columbia. He is the founder of the Skwo-mesh Language Academy — a new organization with a purpose to create language immersion programming for young people in his community to become fluent speakers of their language.
He is an avid lover of dogs, enjoys the outdoors, and has been apprenticing with a mentor from his community on the art and craft of traditional canoe building. Khelsilem currently works with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation on language revitalization projects.


Share this: Google+ Reddit Print

Categories: First Nations, Fluency, Language learning

Tags: , , , ,

13 Responses to “How can I help” answered concretely

  1. strong enough says:

    My company will be providing free WiFi to reserves.. thus providing remote communities access to different teachers through video chat social media and online jobs..

  2. Hi; I have enjoyed your two entries since starting to follow you. I have two comments and a request.

    1) The link does not work for the Tespring Squamish subpage. It might be better to redirect people directly to and include a link to the actual project

    2) I think you might be interested in or may know about the work of Patricia Ningewance, her publishing house has put out “Pocket Ojibwe”, “Pocket Cree”, and “Pocket Inuit”, though none of these is a substitute for the ideal of the Language House.

    One of the quotes about the loss of languages worldwide that really resonates with me is from Wade Davis in Light at the Edge of the World,

    “More than a cluster of words or a set of grammatical rules, a language is a flash of the human spirit, the filter through which the soul of each particular culture reaches into the material world. A language is as divine and mysterious as a living creature. The biological analogy is apropos.
    Extinction, when balanced by the birth of new species, is a normal phenomenon. But the current wave of species loss due to human activities is unprecedented. … In Canada, there were once some sixty indigenous languages, but only four remain viable: Cree, Ojibwa, Dakota and Inuktitut. In all North America, only one Native language, Navajo, is spoken by more than a hundred thousand individuals.” pgs. 6 & 7


  3. The request: Could I have your permission to reblog this?

  4. Thank you for addressing us well meaning white folks with concrete suggestions. However….I am not sure about this particular project. Languages, like the borders of nations, are in constant flux. I would rather focus on a few major languages and make them part of Canada’s official languages roster. Hugh Brody really made me want to learn Inuktitut! I sincerely wish the immersion project well, but wonder if a project to record the worldview that goes with the small languages makes more sense? Or teach everyone that awesome sign language that allowed communication across the continent? Just musing. From Sinixt land.

    • For a moment, I wondered how I would feel reading this, if my Indigenous language were not Cree. Cree is considered a fairly ‘healthy’ language despite the fact that it is still declining at an alarming rate. Then, I remembered that my relations also spoke Michif, and Isga Owawabi but I do not, because we lost those languages.

      Please feel free not to support this project, but the suggestion, however ‘well meaning’ that we should let certain languages die so we can ‘focus our efforts elsewhere’ is exactly the kind of thing I am asking people to stop doing. Truly, if people want to help:

      Believe that Indigenous peoples have the power to find solutions for ourselves.
      Support our efforts in ways that ensure the solutions we enact continue to happen.

      Horrific outcomes exist in the present because so many well-meaning people believed they knew better than Indigenous peoples as to what Indigenous peoples need, or should do. That has to stop.

      • shaneonabike says:

        Thanks for again re-iterating that. I agree as white folks we have to stop telling you what to do or try and interpret what is best for you. I think you’ve had enough of that with residential schools and negative church contributions to your history. I’ll try my best to scarf up some cash and buy a shirt — I reposted this on another group on Facebook so hopefully more folks with $$ can buy some too!

  5. I was thinking about Ien’s comment and your reply. The key part for me was “Believe that Indigenous peoples have the power to find solutions for ourselves. Support our efforts in ways that ensure the solutions we enact continue to happen.”

    Clearly there is not enough support. This is event in the support that First language instruction receives in the schools – chronic underfunding by Indian Affairs compared to schools under the provincial model.

    Sometimes, Indigenous peoples make pragmatics decisions. I taught at Saulteaux Heritage School on the Saulteaux Reserve, 40 kms north of North Battleford Saskatchewan. I did some research prior to going out there and learned that the Saulteaux people were under the Ojibwe umbrella and that the name Saulteaux which is French for tumbling originated because the tribe was living near the St Mary’s River which has an extensive set of rapid. I also learned that there were only at that time about 7-8 first language Saulteaux speakers left. I learned when I got there and began teaching that Plains Cree was taught in the school. The people call themselves Nakawē (ᓇᐦᑲᐌ)—an autonym that is a general term for the Saulteaux. The neighbouring Plains Cree call them the Nahkawiyiniw (ᓇᐦᑲᐏᔨᓂᐤ), a word of related etymology. Their form of Anishinaabemowin (Anishinaabe language), known as Nakawēmowin (ᓇᐦᑲᐌᒧᐎᓐ) or Western Ojibwa language (ISO 639-3: OJW), is an Algonquian language. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saulteaux).

    At some point in the past the band council or the Education Authority had made the pragmatic decision to teach Plains Cree instead of trying to maintain the Saulteaux language. I say pragmatic because as time went on during my tenure I began to see these little pockets of western Saulteaux speakers, dispersed across a sea of Cree.

    In some ways what was happening to Saulteaux in Saskatchewan is what is happening to many Indigenous languages in this sea of English.

    I was surprised by the decision to teach Cree but ultimately, because the dominant culture that I belong to has stolen so much from First Peoples, my position is that Indigenous people get to rebuild their culture in whatever form they choose.

  6. Pingback: “How can I help” answered concretely | Teaching and Learning in First Nations Schools

Leave a Reply