Skwomesh language revitalized by First Nation youth through DIY immersion

A trio of 20-somethings is carving pot roast, in a typical-looking kitchen in a typical-looking apartment in North Vancouver.

But conversation here is unlike anywhere else in the world.

“a stl'i7 u kwi stak̲w?” asks Khelsilem, as he heaps potatoes on a plate for his sister, Jaymyn La Valle.

“en stl'i7 kwi stak̲w,” replies Joshua Watts — pointing to a water glass.

Welcome to Language House: a do-it-yourself immersion experiment driven by youth determined to learn and revive Sk̲wx̱wú7mesh sníchim or in English — the Skwomesh language. (The 7 represents a glottal stop or a slight pause.)

The trio moved in together last autumn after the 25-year-old Khelsilem (his traditional Skwomesh name) put a call out to his fellow Squamish Nation members asking who would like to devote themselves to learning their ancestral tongue — by living with him in an immersion-like setting, instead of attending a weekly class.

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Climbing is like flying in a way. It gives you the wings to explore some of the most inaccessible spires and ledges. I’ve often found myself tethered to a thin nylon rope, looking down from a tiny perch at a miniaturized world below, and thinking to myself: “Humans shouldn’t be here.”
Yet here we are.

End of a long day’s climb of Angel’s Crest (14 pitches) up the Chief in Squamish BC, Canada. Photo by my climbing partner: Karsten