Revitalizing Indigenous languages and cultures

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Image: Used with permission of Tiffany Joseph.

Tiffany Joseph's ancestry is of the SÁNEĆ people on her mother's side and the Sḵwu7mesh people on her father's side, and she currently lives in Tsartlip First Nation, a bit north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Scott Neigh interviews her about her peoples' history and about her work revitalizing her language and culture, and restoring the land.

It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which the realities of colonialism and resistance to it have been erased from mainstream understandings of Canada and of North America more broadly. Thankfully, struggles by Indigenous people have done important work to challenge that erasure, and the realities of past and present colonization, dispossession, and genocide (as well as Indigenous resistance) are more widely understood than a generation ago. But still, dominant institutions and the most common imaginings of this place by settlers still have a long way to go.

One consequence of this relative disconnection that most settlers have from our history is that when we do begin to learn some of it, it can be easy to pick up the broad-strokes words for what has gone on but to miss how that has translated into the lives of individuals, families and communities. Words like "colonization" and "genocide" contain within them many, many stories of real people's experiences of hurt, theft, trauma, and disruption of safety, culture and language. And they also contain countless stories of Indigenous strength, dignity and survival.

And this shallow understanding we often develop of what has happened and what is happening now often further results in a very poor sense of what needs to be done. Of course, what needs to be done looks like a lot of different things, and Indigenous people struggle against the ongoing impacts of colonization and genocide in many different ways. But in part, it can look like slow, steady work by individuals, families and communities to undo harm, to defend and restore the land, and to revitalize language and culture.

It's some of these kinds of work that Tiffany Joseph talks about on today's episode.

Joseph had opportunities to be in her culture from her father's side growing up, including learning some of the Squamish language between pre-school and Grade 10. In fact, her grandmother -- one of only a dozen fluent speakers of the language left at that time -- was one of her pre-school teachers, and it was her grandmother's example that inspired her to take the path that she has taken. As an adult, she has had a chance to learn the SENĆOŦEN language, her language from her mother's side. Her work today is focused on doing land restoration and cultural and language revitalization work in her community.

Image: Used with permission of Tiffany Joseph.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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