The Hesquiaht First Nation is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The nation has twelve fluent speakers remaining—a direct result of over one-hundred years of Indian Residential Schools. chuutsqa is a newly fluent speaker. Her fluency was hard-earned and throughout the many years to acquire it, some people toldher to give up. They told her that learning the language was a lost cause.
chuutsqa did not give up. People stepped forward and helped her. Her first Mentor was the late Lawrence Paul. She credits his generosity and endless patience with her first advancement in learning the language. His name, kiiciy̓ aḥs,comes from their ancestors who were brother and sister. He shared this with chuutsqa in their third year of mentorship when she could fully appreciate the significance. With the support of Lawrence Paul and Angela Galligos, his niece,chuutsqa progressed from being a non-speaker to gain adult speaking proficiency. This was the culmination of a three-year Mentor- Apprenticeship. She is now an advanced- speaking language learner able to teach immersion methods.
Since 2010, chuutsqa has not gone more than a month without offering free and open Hesquiaht language programming. With nine fluent speakers, she co-hosts eleven hours of online language instruction each week. Her courageous efforts have resulted in thirty-seven certified Hesquiaht language beginner-level speakers, completing 140 hours of language instruction.
There are 100 committed language students.
There is another layer to chuutsqa’s work. She says the language is alive if it is being spoken. She has learned that there is a need to create both safety and value in speaking the language. This will come through healing. This year she isadding a new program to revitalize Hesquiaht women singing their songs. Today only men sing the songs in public. chuutsqa believes this is a century-old colonial legacy. She is working to change that and bring the women’s voicesback.chuutsqa understands that her work connects her to the generations before her and to the generations after. The generations ahead will be the benefactors of her courage.