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:
- 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.
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.
Khelsilem 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.”
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.