Perspectives of a Young Language Learner

on the International Decade of Indigenous Languages

June 21, 2023

Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day, a time to recognize and honour the rich and diverse languages, arts, cultures, heritages and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people across the country. At the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation, we lift up all those working to protect, reclaim, and revitalize their Indigenous languages, arts, cultures, and heritages.

This year, we’re spotlighting the perspectives of Aiyana Twigg, a young person from Ktunaxa Nation in south-eastern B.C. She’s learning the Ktunaxa language (also known as Kootenai, Kutenai, and Ksanka) one-on-one with a fluent speaker in her community through the First Peoples’ Cultural Council’s Mentor-Apprentice Program.

Last December, Aiyana joined our board chair, Dr. Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams, in attending the official global launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 at UNESCO’S headquarters in Paris. As a United Nations global observance, the Decade is helping to draw attention to the critical status of Indigenous languages worldwide and to mobilize coordinated action towards their protection and advancement.

Aiyana Twigg, language apprentice, Dr. Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams, chair of First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation, and Carla Lewis, chair of First Peoples’ Cultural Council, attended the official global launch of the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages at UNESCO in Paris in Dec 2022.

Aiyana sat down with us and shared her impressions from that event and her hopes for what the Decade can achieve. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What were your overall impressions of the global Decade launch in Paris this Dec? What were the highlights and what was it like to attend with Dr. Lorna Williams?

Aiyana: “My overall impression was that it was inspiring and hopeful. It was really impactful being able to witness such a momentous event in person as a youth, knowing that all of the people, like Dr. Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams and Chief Wilton Littlechild who’ve been at the forefront for change for our Indigenous languages, could witness their work finally making a difference.

As a young person, I’m able to see the effects of their contributions for my generation and the next. It’s really encouraging for me as I’m just beginning my lifelong journey in language revitalization, and it makes me hopeful knowing that the work I do will also make a difference.

The highlights of attending the Decade launch event were being able to listen to all these truly inspirational people, learn from them, and look forward to this Decade. It was an honour to attend with Lorna. Even in the little time we had, I learned so much from her and I can see how much of an impact she’s made. I hope to carry that forward.”

What were your big takeaways from this event?

Aiyana: “The biggest takeaway was looking at what this Decade truly means for our Indigenous languages. While the launch was such a powerful event, I realize that this Decade is a new beginning for our languages.

It’s a time for us to take action and gain the support, funding, and resources we need to revitalize our languages. For me, I’ve been thinking about how I can be a part of that change.”

What are your thoughts on the significance of the Decade as a younger person who’s involved in learning your language?

Aiyana: “This Decade is so significant because there was once a time when we had our languages taken away from us. That is true for all Indigenous peoples in Canada and their languages.

Both my grandparents and my father are residential school survivors. My grandparents were fluent in our language but due to their experiences they never passed it on. This Decade ensures that we Indigenous youth have the right to preserve, promote, and revitalize our languages. My grandparents, father, and ancestors had that right taken away, but today we have regained that right.

My generation has the ability to reclaim our languages and identity. As a young person, I feel it’s my duty to learn and pass on this information since those that did have that right taken away fought so hard for us. I want to continue that flame and hopefully one day we won’t have to fight any more and we’ll be able to speak and practice our culture without feeling the despair and worry that we will lose our identities.

It’s reassuring knowing we are already making progress for the revitalization, promotion, and preservation of our languages with this Decade.”

What’s your hope for Indigenous languages, especially in the next 10 years?

Aiyana: “While Indigenous people should be leading this Decade, I hope that we will have allies on our side taking action and supporting us.

Revitalizing all the world’s Indigenous languages will require a global effort. We need funding, curriculum and resource development, policies, and much more. This can only be achieved on a national scale.

I hope is by the end of the Decade there will be curriculums in place and our languages will be taught in education so that our younger generations can have equal access to their languages and feel empowered to speak and learn them. There’s a lot that I’m hopeful for but the biggest is that we can start taking the next step to revitalize our languages.”

Check out Aiyana’s Instagram account @KtunaxaPride

The First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation is actively engaged in the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-32 as part of our commitment to elevate the efforts Indigenous people are leading to document, protect, practice, and pass on their languages.

Read Dr. Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams’ blog on the global launch event for the Decade of Indigenous Languages:

Contribute to Indigenous cultural vitality today: