I want to share just how difficult it can be for displaced Indigenous peoples to access our languages.
When I was writing Kamloopa there were a number of parts that presenced themselves in Okanagan/n̓səl̓xcin̓, but because I'm not a language speaker, I just wrote them in english and put in italics "in Syilx" hoping I could eventually realize them. Ultimately, I could not find a fluent language speaker who could do the translations.
So in the production, we arrived at the disheartening conclusion that we could't speak the n̓səl̓xcin̓ sentences. We were only able to find one word, which Kaitlyn Yott beautifully embodied but I always knew there was something missing. That the act of Syilx continuance had yet to be fully realized and that would happen when or if we ever got the full translations.
This year, after the production, while we are working on publishing the play, I sent out a message to my Upper Nicola band seeking a fluent speaker and people saw it and shared it and it found a woman named Gloria Sheena who forwarded it to Nancy Saddleman who is a fluent speaker and now doing the translations.
It's been a moving experience working with Nancy. When she read one of the characters names "Kilawna" she said "oh you named her Grizzly", I took a breath and said yes I did and you're the first person to read that name and instantly understand what I was doing with that decision. It was if Kilawna, our Grizzly Bear, had been seen for the first time by a n̓səl̓xcin̓ speaking Matriarch.
The name Mikaya, is rooted in the n̓səl̓xcin̓ word for blood. She's the one who has the power to travel via her blood into the other realms, she also connects to her sister Kilawna through her blood. Towards the end of the story when I write something to the effect of "Kilawna see's her blood for the very first time" there's a layering that I baked into the ceremony for n̓səl̓xcin̓ knowledge holders.
I deliberately wrote moments to be unearthed, moments where you have to switch your paradigm into a Syilx one. Towards the transformation moment I write "they are speaking directly to their Ancestors as Kilawna holds her sister" - Syilx knowing allows us to see that the Grizzly is accessing her timeless self, through her blood by her blood via her sisters gift. From a western paradigm it could be perceived that it's just two sisters looking at one another but from the Indigenous paradigm we know that the powerful act of looking into her sisters eyes, lets her transcend the Earthly world through our blood relational cosmic bonds.
It goes beyond code switching, for me, using Indigenous language is the portal to the Indigenous paradigm. Having n̓səl̓xcin̓ sounds be the inception for moving our mouths, lips and body allow us to enter into the Syilx world. The language sounds like the land and it brings us to a place inaccessible by a western paradigm.
I use the language to make an exclusive place for Syilx peoples, Indigenous speakers and those bravely willing to let go of western notions of storytelling and hear and experience Syilx narratives not just through cognitive channels. n̓səl̓xcin̓ becomes the access point to bearing witness to truth, Indigenous connectivity and love - why do you think speaking our languages was one of the first things made illegal by the state - it has the power to transform and transcend us to a place where we are the state.
A state of Indigenous sovereign power where our experiences don't need to be shifted, maneuvered, translated and that my slaxts, brings a peace that the state is terrified of. It is the ultimate act of Indigenous continuance.
When I hear Nancy say wáy, to me as we get off the phone, I feel it in my blood like a wave of love because it's charged with peace and spiritual nourishment. The loss of language speakers and knowers is something I've been mourning a lot these past few months, there are not a lot of n̓səl̓xcin̓ speakers and even fewer who can write it.
Nancy is driving from Upper Nicola to Westbank tomorrow to meet with her friend and language mentor, to check and confirm the translations. A Matriarchal meeting crossing Nations, state lines and time to support the full realization of this story. I am not sure I can think of something more humbling than Nancy's service to leading the translations. I'm so grateful for her hard work, her jokes and that I get to hear her laugh on the phone.
I'm currently living in Break Horizons world and a part of my continued story creation work, is to give attention to the power of Indigenous languages. Break is a gathering of Nations with 5 Indigenous Matriarchs, from 5 different Salish Nations, who will speak 5 different languages because when these women show up, they are bringing all of their worlds with them because that's what it's going to take to break event horizon.
I'm daunted by the challenge to honour 5 Salish languages (we will also be presencing non-human language such as Tahlequah's) but I can't think of a better use of my time, other than moving to my territory and learning my language, which I'm very much considering once I'm done school.
Throughout this process of writing Kamloopa my Dad kept asking whose the audience? Will people "get it". I would always respond with I'm writing for my people, the language speakers, even if there aren't that many. I know the Ancestors will understand it and in my creative practice that lives beyond time, there is a large population of Ancestors listening. I also write for the future language speakers and community members who will evolve into understanding Indigenous storytelling, so I write for all of them.
I'm beyond excited we're getting these translations, I think Kamloopa will finally be born and fully experienced, realized and alive.
Limelet to all the Matriarchs working to get this done and to Charles my editor for your patience,
in service to my people always,
with great Indigenous love,
p.s one of my favourite bookstores Powell's is selling pre-orders for Kamloopa and I just feel so happy that we get to share her.