How would our ancestors heal our languages?

Bell, Lucy
Rea, Amelia
Bell, Lucy
Rea, Amelia
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How do we heal our ailing languages? The answers are within us. The answers are around us. My Haida language is critically ill. As a language learner and a coordinator, I felt the frustrations of learners and elders who wanted so badly for us to speak Xaad Kil. I felt like we were missing something in our language learning journey. We were missing the healing, the preparations and the connections to our ancestors, the supernaturals and the land and the sea. For my thesis research, I asked how our ancestors would have healed our language. What medicines, what rituals, what foods and what supernatural helpers could help breathe life back into the language? Through interviews and archival research, I discovered over 100 traditional ways to heal our mother tongue. Some of these healing practices are common, whereas some have been forgotten and need to be revived and reinvented. Our ancestors didn’t have to revive their language, therefore we have to approach these healing practices with an open mind and heart. One of my favourite healing practices I learned about was done on me when I was a quiet toddler. My grandmother took me into the forest and wiped my mouth with spruce cones, asking them to help me speak. Another powerful northwest coast practice is the use of devil’s club as a cleanser to make the body clean to accept new knowledge. Our ancestors would have encouraged us to cleanse ourselves to accept the Haida language. These are two of the many rituals that our ancestors I learned about in my research. It is also important for language learners to rely on an ancestral diet to connect us to our ancestors and environment and keeps us much healthier and happier than a fast-food diet. Many of our traditional foods, such as fish oil and berries are proven to be excellent brain foods. In our efforts to heal our languages, it is so important to connect to the supernatural beings. There are over 500 supernatural beings in my culture. Many of them are story-keepers, song-teachers, finders-of-lost-objects, tricksters and guardians. They are there. They are waiting for us to call on them on our healing journey. I look forward to sharing some of the 100 language revitalization practices I documented in my thesis and generating insight and discussion into the ways other language groups are traditionally healing their own languages.
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