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HomeLanguage NewsnewsThe True Tongue of the Tsimshian Tribe

The True Tongue of the Tsimshian Tribe

Tsimshian Totem Pole
Tsimshian Totem Pole

The language of the Tsimshian tribe of the Pacific Northwest is called Sm’algyax (alternatively spelled Shm’algyack), which directly translates to, “real or true tongue.” In order to give the Tsimshian children a sense of cultural identity, Donna Roberts, one of the last fluent speakers of the tribe’s language, will embark on a three-year teaching project in Metlakatla, Alaska to spread the Tsimshian language and culture. “They realized they didn’t know their language,” Roberts told the Seattle Globalist. “They thought that just singing the words to the song as they danced was knowing the language. But just lately they realized, no, they don’t know their language,” Roberts said. “That generation is beginning to realize that they are missing that.”

The program is funded by a $1 million grant from the Alaska Native Education Program and aims to revitalize the Sm’alguax language from its few hundred current native speakers. “We have a responsibility to break th[e] chain of trauma and shame,” said David R. Boxley, one of the three co-founders of the Haayk Foundation, an organization founded to promote the Sm’algyax language. “The kids will have an opportunity to view the world in a different way. If the language dies, then we will just be a community of people who aren’t white,” Boxley continued. “We will just be a community of Indians but without the things that make us that.”

“Sm’algyax is the language of the Tsimshian people,” Gavin Hudson, another co-chair for the Haayk Foundation, told KRBD News. “It’s going away. It’s fading away before our very eyes. It seems that with language loss comes identity loss. We fill that void with drugs and alcohol and abuse of all sorts – self-hatred, self-loathing. So, our silver-bullet idea is to save our language in order to strengthen the spirit of our people.”

Photo: “Tsimshian,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000

#Tsimshian #AKnative #indigenous #nativelanguage

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