Secwepemctsin teacher aspires to keep Indigenous languages alive

·4 min read

?Abenanes, Tân’si, Wéytk, Way’ and Dahooja!

Tsilhqot’in, Cree, Secwepemctsin, Nsyilxcən and Carrier is one of the many five languages Floyd Dick uses to greet his students with a friendly hello or greeting at the beginning of each lesson.

The Secwepemc language and cultural teacher continues to provide open learning lessons for Nesika, Mountview and Marie Sharpe elementary schools after joining School District 27 as an instructor in December 2019.

“We’re connected to many things just like the Coastal art how it shows an eagle that has a bear, wolf and beaver inside it,” he said.

“We’re not just one thing.”

Language has always been important to Dick, who grew up in Esk’et (Alkali Lake) south of Williams Lake.

He was immersed in the language of his ancestors through his grandparents who only spoke Secwepemctsin—the language of the Secwepemc.

When his parents of the Secwepemc Nation returned after completing treatment for alcoholism, Dick would teach what he had learned from his grandparents to them.

“It seems like my parents’ age group is still suffering from the implications of residential school in terms of being ashamed of the language or being too far gone with it that they don’t want to start,” he said.

Dick completed his grade 11 and 12 studies at Columneetza in Williams Lake, where Cecilia DeRose, a survivor of St. Joseph’s Mission, he said, was his language teacher.

After graduating in 1989, Dick moved to the Lower Mainland after marrying his first spouse from the Lil’wat Nation near Pemberton, and worked producing language curriculum.

Because the Lower St̓át̓imcets dialect is similar to Secwepemctsin he said it was relatively easy to pronounce the words and read to the point where he could become engaged in another Indigenous language.

Over the years, Dick was also exposed to the Cree language as he drummed at powwows in B.C., Alberta and Washington.

He worked with In-SHUCK-ch Services Society, researching pre-treaty content, before returning to Williams Lake where he would juggle work and post-secondary studies.

“That seemed to take more than six years,” he said of finally receiving his bachelor’s degree, teaching certification and language proficiency from Simon Fraser University.

Dick said it is tough to see young First Nations people who are lost due to intergenerational trauma.

He said he fought hard against others who told him he did not belong and eventually found himself letting go of their suggestions and opinions, which he said did not matter anymore because he was able to create a view of himself that would be the only one he would hold himself to.

Through meditation, he said he was also able to release any negative thoughts.

Dick’s Indigenous name Setsinmes Re Iswell, which means Singing Loon, was gifted to him by the universe after several days of fasting in which he had received a vision.

“The trees had bent over, and sticks fell out, and when the sticks landed on the ground, they all had different colours on them to represent man and nature,” he said.

“Rainbow-coloured children picked up the sticks and followed each other as they were tapping them.”

On May 8, 2017, Dick was among many people participating in a community celebration at Esk’et to mark the Esk’etemc First Nation having declared title and rights over its traditional territory and lands.

He said it was that very day he shared the vision, which would be brought to reality by youth and adults picking up a staff and dancing with it.

“I think that’s what the vision was telling me —to bring back our whole customs that we used to do,” he said.

Since April 2020, Dick has publicly shared some of his teachings through his educational Facebook page Secwepemctsin Learning for My SD27 schools.

In his latest video “Le cwucwten’s Le q7es teqelmucw” (The ways of the old ones), he explained it is one part of three separate stories from his Xpe7e-lu7 (late grandfather) Mitchel Dick who was a medicine man and swam in the creek through the waters where he acquired his songs from their ancestors honouring all women, especially ones with water names.

“That sounds pretty good,” Dick said of language revitalization.

“I don’t want to turn anyone away at all from learning my language because it’s dying as it is.”

Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune