Why you should learn the Skwxwú7mesh language

As a resident of the North Shore, I find it but deferential to explore the culture of the people on whose traditional, historical land I, a modern settler, am honored to reside.

The Squamish people, or nation, as it were, have been living here for centuries. While they live, their language, the Skwxwú7mesh sníchim, is nearly dead. That is why I invite you to learn it, or to promote and support its teaching.

As the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger puts it, Squamish is a ‘severely endangered’ language. However, the picture is not so gloomy. Current efforts to revitalize the Skwxwú7mesh language, and culture, include the amazing work by Kwi Awt Stelmexw, which has been collaborating with SFU for a full-time immersion program that produces fluent native speakers. Obviously, the venerable goal of this initiative it to ensure future Squamish generations speak their language and live their culture, as their natural, historical right.

As a passionate lover of languages, I was curious on how to read the language and how the Squamish people count, greet and give gratitude. Everyone gets curious — Why is there a ‘7’ in Skwxwú7mesh, the Squamish word for ‘Squamish’? That’s how I ran into Kwi Awt Stelmexw’s language resources page. As you shall see, it is challenging to produce some sounds, and it is sad that they have adopted Latin letters, since with such a small number of letters and such a larger number of phonemes, the alphabetic principle has been violated considerably. (Perhaps the Squamish people should develop their own script.) But that’s the beauty of this endangered language — the challenge to learn it, as well as the eerie fact that it is so ancient and so tied to the land and sea.

I then got a copy the Squamish-English-Squamish Dictionary, compiled by the Squamish Nation. It enumerates all possible terms the authors were able to collect and jot down. With a dictionary in place, the preconditions to allow the Squamish language to prosper have been set.

Despite my curiosity and passion to get interested into learning Skwxwú7mesh, what added to my motivation was this one well-articulated paragraph by Zack Simon:

If he would like to teach his children a language whose speakers have committed the fewest moral transgressions, Mr. Mullone would do well to browse through UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger and choose from among those. Speakers of those languages have experienced history as a negative experiences its photograph. Consequently, their numbers are dwindling and their mother tongues are likely to find themselves in the dustbins of history by the conclusion of this century.

Which is why I invite you to learn the Skwxwú7mesh language.


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