Page 1

My MILR Adaawx:


Masters of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization!

More Than Words - It’s Personal!

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Biiłts’ik Colleen Austin!


My MILR Adaawx: More Than Words - It's Personal Copyright 2013 Colleen Austin!

! ISBN 978-0-9937877-1-3! Published by: Biiłts’ik Colleen Austin! Terrace, BC!

! !


Cover Photo: First Peoples House University of Victoria! photo credit R. Austin July 2013


My MILR Adaawx: It’s More Than Words - It’s Personal!


photo credit R. Austin, T. Sutton, A. Miyagawa, N. Spankie, ! T. Herbert , C. Guno & P. Elliott

photo credit R. Austin, G. Austin, N. Claxton, S. Gerow, T. Herbert, M. Laval, M. Samson, J. Williams,! M. Woodcox, UNBC & Unknown

Dedication! ! !

To my St’át’imc (Lillooet) ancestors, Matilda Napoyet Williams !


To my Mom Marnie Birley !


To my husband Robin, our son Graeme & our daughter Amber!


To Waaps Niishaywaaxs Gitselasu!


To my Waaps sister Nts’i’its K’aash Charlotte Guno!


To my Ts’msyen Sm’algyax mentors Mildred Roberts & Tammy Blumhagen !


To the Tsimshian Community of Kitsumkalum!


To Dr. Lorna Williams!


To the Language Champions who are keeping the breath in Indigenous languages !

! To the People and the Territories who generously hosted me over the years! !


MILR Grad Certificate Convocation UVic! photo credit R. Austin June 2013

! ! More than Words - It’s Personal!


Biiłts’ik di waayu!


SKALs: Indigenous Epistemologies!


Issues in Minority Language Maintenance!


Researching Community-Based Initiatives in Language Revitalization! 17! Socio-Cultural Theory and Second Language Learning!


Program and Curriculum Development in Language Revitalization!


Seminar in Applied Linguistics!


Indigenous Research Methods!



At T’Sou’ke! photo credit R. Austin July 2013 !

Preface! More than Words - It’s Personal!


This book is to satisfy part of my IED 597 course (comprehensive exam) for my Masters of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization at the University of Victoria. It is a compilation of my thoughts, photos and reflections over the past year which weave the story of the journey I’ve been on. I use the Tsimshian word Adaawx in my title because it means true telling in Ts’msyen Sm’algyax.!


In 2007 I started to learn Ts’msyen Sm’algyax so that my students at ‘Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre in Kitsumkalum would have some exposure to it. This was not easy work since the climate in which I was working, in terms of using the language, was less than ideal. To understand how hard it was to get this little bit of language going in the community back in 2007 one must understand the general attitude around Terrace at the time. I would describe it as one of institutional racism; public schools, local businesses, and even the City of Terrace were guilty of it on a grand scale. At the same time we were, like many other communities, challenged with the affects of residential school, addictions, high rates of poverty and unemployment. I would have to say, however, that the most appalling attitude came from frequently overheard comments about Indigenous people such as, “Their problems are not my problem, but theirs”, “Why do they get everything for free?” and, “Who do they think they are? They don’t own the place”.! Amongst our First Nations community the attitude throughout these past years was surprisingly not one of resentment toward the others, nor resistance toward learning the dominant language and culture. Silence among them prevailed as they were simply torn between fitting in and not fitting in. Now, it seems, that ambivalence has manifested as a result and elders are simply weary and disillusioned. Whilst adults are challenged by work/life balance, most young parents cannot see the value in learning their own language at all. Perhaps it’s as a result of years of taking English classes at school and still falling short of acceptance which might have caused them to ask, “What’s the point?”. All too often I see adults and young people living in their parents’ basements, playing video games and engaging in the ‘social’ communication of Facebook, where everyone seems to fit in. ! It is my hope that the negative attitudes will dissipate with the revitalization of Ts’msyen Sm’algyax in Kitsumkalum and that we will see our elders and young people happy again. I hope that my passion for learning Ts’msyen Sm’algyax and these reflections on this journey will inspire them to connect to their own journey of language learning.


Teaching Sm’algyax at Kitsumkalum! photo credit A. Miyagawa Oct 2012!

Introduction! Biiłts’ik di waayu!


Colleen di waayu! Biiłts’ik di waayu! Gisbutwada di pdeegu! Lillooet di wil ‘waatgu! Manganeexs (Terrace) di wil dzogu! Waaps Niishaywaaxs Gitselasu! Tsimshian nüüyu!


I became the teacher-in-charge at ‘Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre in Kitsumkalum, located on the Skeena River 5 km west of Terrace BC, in 2005. My journey of learning Sm’algyax with my adult students began in 2007 when the late Tammy Blumhagen taught this subject for two semesters. In 2009 I was adopted into the Kitselas killerwhale house of Waaps Niishaywaaxs. I am honoured to carry my Tsimshian name, Biiłts’ik, which is a house symbol meaning red sunset - tomorrow will be a nice day. The following year I became the Sm’algyax teacher at the school with fluent speaker Mildred Roberts by my side. I believe that I was born to teach and learn, which in Sm’algyax is the same word for both, suwilaawxs. !


I believe that we are born to respect each other (łooda sila gyedn) and to make a difference in this world. In the end it is not the number of the toys you have accumulated in life, but the value people hold in remembering what you did with your life that counts. I am grateful for Dr. Lorna Williams, Mildred and Tammy, whose life work of language revitalization continues to inspire me. I am grateful for the wisdom and vision of Charlotte Guno for seeing in me something that I didn’t, until now.! These phrases in Sm’algyax inspire my steps forward: Łgwisliism hana’au dp gwa’a...adat łgwisliism ‘yuuyu dp gwa’a (My nieces and nephews are important to me because they represent my future); Łooda lagyigeda txa’nii yets’isga waaldi da lax yuup ada txa’nii goo luwaalm ts’m aks (Our ancestors respected all animals that live on land and all things that live in the sea). 

Class Activities at Tsartlip & Tsawout! photo credit C.Austin & V. Wells July 2012

IED 572! SKALs: Indigenous Epistemologies! Instructor: Dr. Lorna Williams! Summer 2012!


Inspiring Words by Dr. Lorna Williams, Rosa Mantla and Calvin Claxton ! ! ! Language is not static. Strong like two people. The land listens.!

The Importance of Knowing Who We Are! After listening to six group presentations I can clearly see and feel the common bowl from which we have all learned. I feel so much joy from the images presented because they tell me that I am in the right environment to learn; one of belonging, compassion and understanding. The stories of experiences which are common to us, even though we have not lived together, or even in the same territory, tell me that we are of one mother earth. That we are of one heart, mind, body and land. We see the world in the same way through our indigenous knowing; our worldview. We speak different languages and wear different clothes but we have so much in common. We understand the things that are truly important, earth, wind, fire and water are the common thread for us. We are all related and have unique gifts yet to share and discover. How blessed are we to be born and in this place? How powerful are our gifts and the new knowledge which we get from our sharing? We are curious to understand how this canoe journey will move us in time to make a difference in the world. There are so many questions to be answered which will open doors to new understandings. This is why we are passionate about working on discovering the answers. We want new doors to open....we are not happy unless we do. We need new doors to open...our earth, it's people and the animals are sick & we need to make it well. Indigenous knowledge will give us what we need to survive...the children in our communities are suffering in school and life because they don’t know what they need to know. We have to teach them who they are. 

Class Activities at First Peoples House! photo credit C. Austin & T. Sutton July 2012

LING 577! Issues in Minority Language Maintenance! Instructor: Dr. Peter Jacobs ! Summer 2012!

! More Than the Study of Language Loss ! !

The journey I’ve taken through this course was challenging and delightful at the same time. I’ve learned that clarity of mind comes from dissonance, and that the more uncomfortable I feel in the process the more clear I will be in the end. The course syllabus calls this “Issues in Minority Language Maintenance” and describes it as a linguistics course whose focus is on endangered languages. I have discovered, however, that it is a study in truly understanding ourselves, our gifts and what is being called for in our community language revitalization. It’s about knowing what we’ve got to contribute, naming where our communities are at, what is happening in other communities (both locally and around the world), how to do the necessary research to build a plan, and how to take this vital information back home with us. In some respects I was encouraged to know that the work done in Kitsumkalum thus far was valuable however, it made me realize how vital it is to be in this program, in terms of moving my work forward. Understanding other models of community based research which was extensive and collaborative helps to shed light on the situation at home. The excitement, passion and enthusiasm of those involved in reawakening indigenous languages is encouraging and the relationships which develop as a result give way to more of this. Peter often referred to us as researchers, which gave me pause to question myself, but now that I’ve been exposed to it I can see myself fulfilling that role in the months ahead, with enthusiasm. I will always remember the day we went to the UVic library to connect to the resources available there; most of us were confused and overwhelmed. Having been exposed to the learning in this class I believe that there is validity to what Peter told us in the first class...that we are stl’alḵem (a Squamish word). He told us that when we are feeling frustrated, or elated, that we are in a special place. He said that we should take advantage of it, relish it, jump into it and put all the goodness we can into it. He told us to be careful of how we use our words and walk with our gifts and carry our learnings into the future. I will hold onto these words as I continue my learning.


Class Activities ! photo credit C. Austin, T. Sutton & P. Elliott Sept 2013!

IED 531! Researching Community-Based Initiatives in Language Revitalization! Instructor: Dr. Lorna Williams! Fall 2012 !

! Using Technology to Spark a Fire for Language Revitalization ! !

My final project for this course took the form of a twenty minute video which I crafted, to both answer a general question of inquiry around the use of technology in furthering my community’s language revitalization, as well as to identify my research methodology in pursuing that inquiry. My research community is the First Nation of the Kitsumkalum, located on the western edge of Terrace BC at the confluence of the Skeena and Kalum rivers which forms part of the Tsimshian Nation. I chose my particular inquiry after deliberating with some members of my cohort at the University of Victoria, and my seven years of experience as a teacher in our on-reserve school, ‘Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre. As someone who grew up before the invention of the internet I have been fascinated by my students, who I often refer to as the ‘net generation’, and who have grown up with the internet. Consequently the use of this technology appears to be second nature to them. Their enthusiasm for all things digital, and the enormous potential that the world wide web affords them has provoked the notion that maybe the traditional methods of teaching and modalities for learning are now going to be forever changed in ways that would have seemed like science fiction only a few years ago. In the interest of advancing my Sm'algyax language instruction perhaps the way in which we pursue and utilize research in our community will follow suit. I invite you to view the video I have published on YouTube: IED531 Project Presentation 8Nov12. 


Class Activities! photo credit C. Austin & T. Sutton Sept. 2013!

LING 578! Socio-Cultural Theory and Second Language Learning! Instructor: Dr. Peter Jacobs! Fall 2012!

! It’s Not Just a Theory - It Inspires Fulfillment! !

In this course I developed a personal relationship with the late Russian philosopher, and genius, Lev Vygotsky which inspired some interesting dialogue at First Peoples House. Although his life was short his work, through translation, provides for more than the understanding of a theory, it is a way of life for some of us in indigenous language revitalization. As I researched Vygotsky’s life and work I understood the value of this information to my own life and work. Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory (SCT), when put into practice, inspires innovation and problem solving in challenging learning environments through the understanding that social context influences more than just attitudes and beliefs, it has a profound and lasting influence on how we think and what we think. As a result students develop self worth, reasonable risk taking, and improve intellectually and behaviourally, which are the basic thinking processes fundamental to learning. I asked myself what impact and potential SCT might have on Sm'algyax language revitalization. I explored the six key concepts of SCT; mediation, Zone of Proximal Development, collaborative dialogue, private speech, everyday and scientific concepts, interrelatedness of cognition and emotion, activity theory and assessment. Although understanding each of these concepts contributes to articulating how and where development occurs in Sm’algyax the value for me comes from thinking about how it might impact greater engagement and higher learning in the language. For the duration of this course I incorporated these concepts into my language teaching, through narratives and practice, which led to my students’ desire to create new ways of learning the language using new technologies. The acquisition of many specialized abilities for thinking is the expected outcome for SCT. As our community works together to learn our language we are creating something new in terms of the possibilities for ourselves as individuals and as a tribe in the Tsimshian nation. I have witnessed thousands of years of the wisdom of our ancestors in my students’ own language learning. I believe that our minds have a spirit, a life, a history, and a space to create beyond our consciousness. By discovering new ways to articulate these concepts for others to understand, we create new learning beyond that which we can only imagine now. I believe that this theory is far reaching and its understanding is required in order to tackle the challenges of language revitalization in our communities and to inspire fulfillment.

!! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !! !!

‘Challenge to Leadership’ conference presentation at UBC! & youth-hosted feast at Kitsumkalum!


photo credit C. Austin, ! C. Bohn, T. Sutton & Unknown April 2013

IED 510! Leadership and Governance in Language Revitalization! Instructor: Dr. Onowa McIvor! Winter/Spring 2013!


Defining Roles to Maximize Potential! What kind of leadership qualities do you possess? My initial reaction to writing a response to this course question was one of the negative feeling that stems from 'blowing one's own horn'. However, over the past few years I have learned the importance of defining this for the benefit of personal growth and community education. In as much as it is challenging to do so, it is imperative to articulate my understanding of the gifts from my teachers. These gifts make up who I am and guide my actions both personally and professionally. The following list summarizes, in no particular order, those gifts; embrace and value individual differences, relationships, generosity, compassion, family and community, spirit and space, happiness and contentedness, sensibility and logic, good listening and a desire to learn. In addition, I believe in always working with a good heart and good thoughts, integrity and a willingness to make changes for the benefit of the community. I am a hard worker and place priority on having a good attitude and a grateful heart. I value fairness, mutual respect, self discipline and a willingness to face challenges with patience and persistence. Others say that I have a good sense of diplomacy, initiative, ability to bring people together and approach everything with confidence and pride in my heritage. I often hear that I create an environment of welcoming and safety which encourages others to reach their potential. I am grateful for these gifts and the opportunities which provide for their best use. I am thankful that his course provided for one of those opportunities.! I coordinated a project with my students called ‘Challenge to Leadership’, whose story might become a book of its own one day. In brief, the students learned greetings in the three indigenous languages of the Skeena constituency (Sm’algyax, Nisga’a and Haisla). They interviewed leaders, politicians, and chiefs to discuss their knowledge of these languages and discovered that some had been exposed to them, while others regretted they hadn’t. All of the interviewees expressed an interest in learning the languages of the territory and encouraged the students to continue with their efforts. It was an amazing project which greatly impacted those who were involved. Using traditional methods and new technology two students, and myself, presented the findings from this project at a university conference. In the end all of the students hosted a large soup feast which most of the leaders attended, along with almost 400 others, at the Kitsumkalum hall on May 28, 2013. It honoured the work that was done by sharing it with the community. We witnessed qualities of leadership and potential in our young people that day. Mildred Roberts said that it was an historic day.

Building Strong Learners in Our Languages

!! !! !! !! !! !!

A ProD Workshop for Educators, Support Workers & Community Members

Agenda Friday, February 8, 2013

• 10:00 Welcome & Introductions by Kitsumkalum Matriarch Mildred Roberts Event Facilated by: Colleen Austin & Toni Wing

Location: Kitsumkalum Hall 10am-3pm

Refreshments & Lunch provided with Free Registration

Grant Funding provided by FNESC

•10:20 Key Note Address by Fibbie Tatti - Dene Kede Curriculum

•11:00 First Nations Resources by Karmen Brillon -FNESC

•12:30 Soup Lunch provided by Faith & Harvey Wing and Students & Staff of 'Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre

• 1:00 Session by Bob Laval - Promoting Resiliency in Learners

• 1:45 Music Performance by students of 'Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre with Anne Hill

• 2:15 Session by Marian Laval - Enhancing Learning through Educational Technology & Innovation

• 3:00 Evaluations & Closing Remarks by Colleen Austin

ProD Event 8 February 2013! photo credit C. Austin, R. Austin, ! A. Miyagawa & V. Napoleon

LING 520! Program and Curriculum Development in Language Revitalization! Instructor: Dr. Strang Burton! Winter/Spring 2013!

! Informing Our Instruction and Shaping Our Work ! !The experiences encountered in this course were unpredictable and thoroughly enjoyable. I had the pleasure of researching models of language programs with my Dene friend Fibbie Tatti. We paired up to embrace the challenge of informing other indigenous educators about the Dene Kede language curriculum and to develop a Sm’algyax language plan for Kitsumkalum. ! ! This is an excerpt from my journal:! In reviewing the indigenous language revitalization efforts across Canada, one must direct ones view to the Kitsumkalum language situation. In Kitsumkalum, the language literally rests on the shoulders of one remaining fluent speaker, Mildred Roberts, who can read and write her language. Historically other studies and programs have been attempted in the area but none has produced a language plan or recommendations for this community. Our case study will re-engage the community in its language revitalization efforts, beginning with the professional development of its indigenous teachers and support workers in School District 82. During the conference, ‘Building Strong Learners in Our Languages’, which we organized on February 8, 2013 the need to support languages in the schools and community was expressed by many. This caused us to shape a language plan which was relevant to meeting and serving the needs of this community and its educators. Currently the Master-Apprentice and Language Nest models are being reviewed for suitability and potential implementation. This case study will be presented to the community leaders to build understanding of the language needs and possibilities which will reignite their support. The urgency for this case study cannot be understated, given Mildred’s poor health.!


Our own professional development found us witnessing the models mentioned in our course readings. Fibbie and I traveled to a language conference in Hawaii, along with a number of university professors and members of our cohort. The experience of the sights and sounds of the Hawaiian language from pre-schoolers to university students will forever influence the implementation of the plan we have developed for Kitsumkalum.

! ! ! ! !

Class Activities! photo credit C. Austin, D. Blaney & Unknown

LING 574! Seminar in Applied Linguistics! Instructor: Dr. Peter Jacobs! Summer 2013!

! Discovering Deeply Together! !

In these final courses of our program there was a renewed excitement which exuded new levels of creativity and deeper thinking. Although the focus of our program is on language revitalization I’ve come to realize that the web of our learning is strengthened by the wisdom, sharing and feedback of topics which at first seem to be unrelated. ! We were tasked with forming groups to choose research articles which represent different aspects of applied linguistics and presenting them in a class seminar. Apart from sharing summaries of the articles we discovered that we have all come to this place for different reasons and in different ways. We honoured each other and the work of those researchers whose work we had chosen in this sharing. In discussions about our articles we realized that we had significant amounts of personal experience which were validated in our topics and added depth to our understanding of them. ! Our seminar provided for feedback from the cohort which was critical, encouraging and offered wisdom from years of experience in indigenous language education and leadership. The critique provided clarity in areas I felt confused about and insight into new ways of looking at the research. This venue provided for a value added experience of unexpected outcomes that can be treasured for the process as much as its purpose. ! The article which I contributed to our group provided an element of research whose aim was to study the role of technology in indigenous language revitalization. The aim of the research was to determine if this new technology would promote the use and transfer of language outside of school, with the interaction of children and their parents at home. Typically, possible routes for effective use of technology by the community are communicative, production of materials and documentation. However, this study generated new considerations, such as the possibility of language use beyond the domain of the technology. As I embark on my own research project I find this interesting and ambitious as this is a problem which is not new, especially when referring to theoretical frameworks and models which attempt to re-establish intergenerational transmission of language. This course left me thirsty for more, especially in exploring the role of spirituality in our language revitalization work. 


Guest Speaker: Marianne Nicolson, a member of the Dzawada'enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka' wakw Nation

Class Activities! photo credit C. Austin & T. Sutton

IED 530! Indigenous Research Methods! Instructor: Dr. Brock Pitawanakwat! Summer 2013!

Pedal to the Metal at the Finish Line!


Typically a good book will leave the reader with a sense of accomplishment and a smile on their face at the end. This course does not necessarily read that way. There was a lot of important material to cover with very little time to do it. The reality of indigenous research is that we never seem to have enough time and that it will always challenge us to be concise. A concept are ore challenging by the fact that we are storytellers after all. I am pleased that the objective of this course was to prepare us to complete a draft project proposal with integrity and clarity. I was so busy reading, writing and researching for this course that I submitted only brief reflections and felt that clarity was not fully achieved as a result. My reflections consisted of chapter summaries, presentation notes, and a rough draft of my project proposal with a brief literature review and shaped the bulk of my work in this condensed course. There were moments of wisdom shared by all but little time to celebrate them.!


Although the volume of work in this course created some new grey hairs for me the rigour was worth it. I was able to develop my initial inquiry question and a foundation on which to build the research project in Kitsumkalum which would become my focus for the next few months. I am excited to discover some answers to, ‘How does Student Engagement in the Understanding of Łoomsk Influence their Motivation to Learn Sm’algyax?’. It is with this Tsimshian concept, and the wisdom of the elders, that excites me to discover new possibilities for the community in the process of my research. The students and elders will, together, see what happens when the focus on this concept, telling our children about respect, is re-evaluated and in the process attempts to prevent complete Sm’algyax language loss in Kitsumkalum. It is with this end in mind that sharing the findings of this project with the community will illuminate the spirit of leadership in language revitalization that I know exists in our young people. Thus offering a brighter future for all members of the community, regardless of age.!


Wayi wah - Now is the time!


MILR Cohort at First Peoples House! photo credit C. Marshall UVic Photo Services

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

This banner is a visual conception of the relationship between my IED 597 submission (My MILR Adaawx: More Than Words - It’s Personal) and my independent research project for IED 598, which will take shape over the next few months. I believe that awakening Sm’algyax is rooted (land) in my book dedication, introduction and learning. The Tsimshian law of Łoomsk (Respect/Honour) is interwoven (leaves) with the essence of each course and the title of each photo. Those who benefit from a vibrant language community are also those who are vital in the process of revitalizing it (blossom). Since water is essential to sustain life the background is shaded blue.

My MILR Adaawx:! More Than Words - It’s Personal!


About the Author! Colleen Austin has been teaching at 'Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre in Kitsumkalum, near Terrace BC since 2005. Although her ancestral territory is St’át’imc (Lillooet), Colleen was adopted into Tsimshian territory by Kitselas Waaps Niishaywaaxs in 2009 and was honored with the name Biiłts'ik, a house symbol meaning 'red sunset - tomorrow will be a nice day'. Colleen is a novice speaker of the Ts’msyen language and teaches Sm'algyax to her students and community members along with the last fluent speaking elder in Kitsumkalum, Mildred Roberts. She is currently completing her Masters of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization at the University of Victoria.! This book explores her Adaawx (true-telling) of her experience in graduate studies at the University of Victoria for the purposes of education, identity, respect and collaboration. It is her hope that this book will support a deeper understanding of graduate studies and the research process that can inspire a call to action in revitalizing indigenous languages everywhere.

Author with Sm’algyax mentor Mildred Roberts! photo credit T. Hoffos Sept. 2011

My MILR Adaawx: More Than Words - It's Personal  

This book explores author Colleen Austin's Adaawx (true-telling) of her experience in graduate studies at the University of Victoria for the...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you