Kil Gal Tseetixs
Dirty All Over
A member of the Fireweed Clan of the Gitxsan Nation, Cheyenne Gwa’amuuk, has been on a learning path with her language. Studying and listening, she has found words and meaning, building her fluency. After completing a bachelor’s degree, she contemplated studying law to support her nation. When she shared this thought with her grandmother, her grandmother said, “If you want to work for the people, you have to speak the language.” That is what Cheyenne has done, she has grown in her fluency, but she realizes that her fluency alone is not enough to keep the language alive. She knows the number of speakers needs to expand.
Along with a community volunteer group, a Strategic Language Plan was developed in 2017. Through this work and with the arrival of her first child, Cheyenne committed to raising her in the language. That was in 2018. In 2019 Cheyenne opened her home to other parents learning the language, developing a language nest for parents and their children. Finding grant funding, she has also provided language learning opportunities to the community. Her love for the language is expansive. Cheyenne’s daughter is now bilingual, moving between Sim Algyax and English.
With the decision to close her language nest, Cheyenne is implementing a “Mom & Tot Immersion Night” to support language proficiency in daily family activities. Through her study of a variety of teaching methodologies, she has developed curricula and has set a goal of building an adult immersion program. While her community language efforts are significant, she remarks, “It’s important to me that the work I’m doing in the home supports the work I’m doing in the community.” She demonstrates a wise and strong balance of family and community.
There is an urgency to Cheyenne’s work. The impacts of settler colonialism have created the need to reclaim and relearn what Cheyenne identifies as the “most important treasures a family holds.” In her language this is called Gwalx Yee’inst –intergenerational knowledge transfer. The knowledge keepers, elders, and speakers are still present, but their treasure must be passed on, and they are many: Ayook (laws), Adwaawk (history), Lax Yip (land), Ayuksxw (crests), Xwtsaan (totem poles), limix (family songs), and Nax Nok (spiritual reenactment or event).
Cheyenne’s life is a powerful example of what defines who she is as a Gitxsan person. Her knowledge of the land and her people’s traditional lifeways serve her well in her role as a spokesperson on behalf of her Lax Yip, House territory. She will continue speaking and sharing the language. She will continue traditional lifeways. She will remain, as will her people, the Gitxsan.