Graduation Day is an exciting and special day for all students as they see all their hard work pay off. It was a little more special for University of British Columbia (UBC) graduating Ktunaxa student Aiyana Twigg of Tobacco Plains Nation as she was awarded the 2022 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy, and Reconciliation at her graduation ceremony on May 25.
“This award recognizes B.C. public post-secondary students in two-year diploma programs and four-year undergraduate programs, who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of inclusion, democracy and/or reconciliation within their campus community,” says Lui Xia UBC Marketing and Communications Assistant.
Twigg graduated from the four-year First Nations Languages and Anthropology program. Her decision to take this undergraduate program sparked from her commitment to her community and her desire to see language revitalization within it. Twigg loved that she had the opportunity to research her own beautiful language and learn it, in turn creating resources for her community.
“Our Ktunaxa language is critically endangered, there’s actually only 20 fluent speakers left,” says Twigg. “It’s very critical that this work is done. I wanted to actually support my community by gaining knowledge and skills to actually support them with that language revitalization.”
Twigg is no stranger to offering up support. When the pandemic began in 2020 most of us were focused on self-isolating while she was focused on bringing people together, especially the youth of her community.
“I had the privilege of growing up on reserve and learning from elders and community members. I was able to learn our languages and our cultural practices,” says Twigg. She soon learnt that not everyone in the community knew these things. She started the account @KtunaxaPride to bring together those that were feeling disconnected with one another.
“I wanted to make that knowledge available and accessible to them. I decided to use Instagram to cater more towards the youth in my community,” says Twigg. “It then suddenly shifted into this platform not just for Ktunaxa youth but also for other Indigenous people from different backgrounds. It also became a place for non-Indigenous people to learn more about the Indigenous communities and for non-Ktunaxa people living on our territories to learn about us.”
@KtunaxaPride has become an inspiration for other Indigenous people of other backgrounds to delve deeper into their own histories with pride and discover their own cultural knowledge. “It now has encouraged all of these other groups of people to start learning their own culture, which was really heartwarming, and something that was unexpected for me.”
Last month, Twigg spoke eloquently and from the heart as a youth guest speaker at the virtual Bringing Home the Salmon Festival that looks at ways to return salmon back home to the upper Columbia River. “I was really happy to be a part of it and also to have the opportunity to learn from others working on that initiative and to learn more about that salmon culture that I didn’t know much about,” says Twigg.
With Twigg giving so much of herself to the community, it is very well-deserved and fitting to see it come back to her with the award of the 2022 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal. She sees it as a recognition of not only all her hard work, but how hard the people within her community are working to revitalize and reconcile.
“It’s a commemoration of the hard work I’m doing to break down these colonial barriers that were set up for me not to really succeed and actually pushing past them. It’s a representation that we as Indigenous people are still here,” says Twigg. “My grandparents, and father went to residential schools and that was my motivation to do language revitalization, because they weren’t allowed to speak the languages. To win this award is very heartwarming to me and recognizes we are still here and are not going anywhere. I don’t see it as just myself winning this award, but my entire community who has supported me and pushed me to be where I am today.”
Twigg celebrates all the hard work that the Ktunaxa First Nation is doing to be where they are today. She feels it’s important to keep pushing and teaching and practicing traditional practices and her language and that is her plan after graduation as she takes a year off to work in her community. She was accepted for an immersion program with First Peoples’ Cultural Council where she’ll work one-on-one with an elder in her community to learn the Ktunaxa language, completing 300 hours of language learning and working on a curriculum development with some other members of her community. As part of Twigg’s undergrad she will continue her research on the Ktunaxa writing system.
“The goal is to publish a paper to a journal with my professor about our findings and the next steps,” says Twigg. “The main goal of that research is to really identify and assess potential gaps that are in the writing system and then actually doing something about it.” Further plans for this future leader includes Twigg’s plan to pursue her Masters in linguistics with a focus on language revitalization.
Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer