RE:  June 21st, National Aboriginal Day (Indigenous Day)

RE: June 21st, National Aboriginal Day (Indigenous Day)

Kwi Awt Stelmexw hosted our second annual gala in April and rasied $50,000 towards the development of a language centre!

“What the people do with the land defines who we are.”

“We either bring our languages back, or we die,” says Khelsilem, the founder of the Squamish Language Immersion Program at SFU. With Trudeau’s announcement of a National Indigenous Languages Act, and with today’s announcement of renaming National Aboriginal Day to National Indigenous Day, we think it’s a great day to consider directly supporting Indigenous projects — perhaps support the project whose land you are on!

Kwi Awt Stelmexw (KAS) is an independent Sḵwx̱wú7mesh art & education organization with a mandate to train, mentor, and create collaborative opportunities for Sḵwx̱wú7mesh people to strengthen artistic practices and knowledge. Working in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh communities, and in the City of Vancouver, KAS builds partnerships to create a vibrant, educated society of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh creatives. It is a unique model which melds the best of urban and Indigenous approaches.  KAS has successfully launched a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language immersion program through Simon Fraser University, which at that time there were 10 fluent speakers of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim, but after eight months of the immersion program, there are now 14 more speakers.  Fifteen Squamish students are registered to start the second offering of the immersion program in September 2017.  

While this achievement is incredible, KAS sees a need to build a Squamish Language Centre to realize its language reclamation goals fully. And that is where you can become a partner!  

Your donations will go towards supporting the development for our Language Centre — all leading to our cultural resurgence and language reclamation.

Support us to bring the Squamish language back to the present so it can continue to thrive long into the future.



Yes, I would love to become a monthly donor!

Yes, I would love to make a one-time donation!


If you need help pronouncing our name, check out our audio Instagram post here.

Contest: Win Tickets to Attend the We Speak! Fundraising Gala

Contest: Win Tickets to Attend the We Speak! Fundraising Gala

Celebrating Squamish Language & Culture

All are invited to join Kwi Awt Stelmexw for the second annual We Speak! Fundraising Gala on April 8, 2017. This is an event to celebrate another year of achievements towards Squamish Language revitalization, and to fundraise for our next big dream: a Squamish Language Centre!

The evening will feature comedy by Ryan McMahon, a delicious four-course dinner by Indigenous chefs, a silent auction showcasing local Coast Salish art, and Squamish Karaoke! We are also proud to be honouring the 15 new Squamish speakers graduating from the Squamish immersion program at this year’s Gala.

All funds raised at the We Speak! Gala will go towards building a Squamish Language Centre in the community.

Would you like to learn more about this exciting opportunity to support the Squamish Language?

Yes, I would love to learn more!


To enter to win two tickets to the We Speak! Fundraising Gala on April 8th 2017, do any of the following. Each action counts as one entry:

1. Follow Kwi Awt Stelmexw on Instagram – @KwiAwtStelmexw and leave a comment on this photo.

2. Tweet the following:

  • Win 2 tickets to the We Speak! Fundraising Gala presented by @KwiAwtStelmexw in #Vancouver via RT to enter!

3. Share this post from our official Facebook page.

4. Leave a comment below telling us your favourite Squamish Language word.

Contest entries will be accepted from the time and date of publishing until 11:59 pm on March 4, 2017. One winner will be chosen at random and contacted through the platform they used to enter.

Seeking Your Input: Vision Statement for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim

Seeking Your Input: Vision Statement for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim

Collaboration for the Future of Our Language

Kwi Awt Stelmexw is seeking your feedback on the Vision Statement for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim, developed last year as part of a community-wide process to develop a 25-Year Strategic Action Plan for the Squamish Language. Visit the survey here or complete the form at the end of this post.

Our Language Planning Project

Since 2015, Kwi Awt Stelmexw has been facilitating a community-wide planning process for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim as part of the Language Revitalization Planning Program. This process has involved bringing together Squamish Nation members through a series of events and meetings to discuss the current state of our language and our dreams for its future. The goal is to develop a 25-Year Strategic Action Plan for the Squamish Language that outlines targets, strategies, and ways to participate in the revitalization of Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim. Our aim is to ensure maximum community participation and input, so that all Squamish peoples can feel proud of, and participate in, the Action Plan.

To date we have achieved the following:

  • Administered the Skwxwú7mesh Languages Assessment Survey to understand the needs and interests of the community
  • Began work to address these needs, such as the creation of the Skwxwú7mesh Immersion Program and the Language in the Homes project
  • Created a repository of existing Skwxwú7mesh resources
  • Hosted the Visioning Café for the Squamish Language
  • Convened a working group to bring the ideas of the Visioning Café together and draft the Vision Statement for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim

The Survey

We are now seeking feedback on the Vision Statement for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim. This statement will be the foundation upon which the 25-Year Strategic Action Plan is written, so it is important to us that the majority of Squamish peoples can identify with it and feel compelled to work towards it. While we accept feedback from anyone, we are especially hoping for input from Squamish Nation members and others with Squamish ancestry. The survey only contains a few questions and should take you less than 5 minutes to complete. Click here to take the survey online, or you can simply fill it out below at the end of this post!

Next Steps

On March 12, 2017, we will be hosting our next community event for strategic language planning. At this event, we will be honouring those who have worked hard for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim (our language warriors!), and we will present the finalized Vision Statement to the community. We will then begin facilitated group work to start the next phase of strategic planning: developing specific goals and targets for the language. Please join us on March 12 for the Honouring Language Champions & Visioning Café.

We will continue to host language planning events over the course of the next year, and hope to have a draft Strategic Action Plan for Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim by the end of 2017!

HIRING: Executive Assistant to Khelsilem

Vancouver, BC | Part Time (approx. 32 hours per 2 weeks)


Khelsilem seeks an an individual who likes inspiring work changing the world. Khelsilem’s work ranges from co-Executive Director of numerous non-profits, soon to be lecturer at a local university, and leadership in the Indigenous Language Revitalization movement. You value innovation, community, and brainstorming solutions to our works’ most challenging problems. The role is administrative support, meeting deadlines, and providing general assistance to the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks of a hard-working nonprofit executive. You are a hard-working, self-motivated individual who can meet the demands of this job but also bring an interest in expanding your role over time.


  • Minimum 1 year experience with administrative support.
  • Excellent communications skills, including strong written communication in English.
  • Ability to prioritize and appropriately direct incoming communications, emails in particular.
  • Strong coordination skills for arranging events, meetings, travel speaking engagements, and other appointments.
  • Ability to assist with updating contact lists, tracking receipts and purchases.
  • Assisting with writing and research projects.
  • Ability to make bank deposits, keeping sound financial records for the organization.
  • Pick up and delivery of packages, mail, and other items.
  • Ability to assist with updating social media accounts.
  • Mature, low-ego mindset with a passion for highly organized administration.


  • Computer skills, particularly Google Docs and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Outlook)
  • Experience with, or willingness to learn, data entry including in Excel, online databases such as Mailchimp, and others.
  • Ease with learning how to fill out various forms and documents related to the job (financial, booking requests, etc.). Managing documents and signatures.
  • Valid driver’s license and access to a working vehicle.
  • Possess laptop or equivalent.
  • Outgoing personality with strong social skills, including representing the organization at special events.
  • Willing to be trained for any of the above requirements.
  • Progressive social and environmental values.
  • Understanding of the importance of Aboriginal language and cultural revitalization work.


Position is for approximately 32 hours/two weeks.
Pay will be $20.63/hour (Vancouver living wage) or negotiable based on experience.
Hours are flexible but will generally be during normal work hours.
Three (3) month trial period with potential for longer term contract.


We encourage applications from Aboriginal persons, women, LGBTQ-identified persons, and people of colour. If you feel like this is a job for you, please fill out an online application to tell us more about who you are! You do not need to submit a resume.


Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and the position will close when the best candidate is identified. Only selected candidates will be interviewed.

Visioning Café to Lead the “Squamish Language Action Plan”

Visioning Café to Lead the “Squamish Language Action Plan”

Community Comes Together to Start Language Visioning Process

On Monday May 16th, Kwi Awt Stlemexw hosted a Visioning Café for the Squamish Language at the Xwmelch’stn Longhouse. Youth, elders, teachers, and community members came together for an evening of food, language games, and conversations about how to get more Skwxwú7mesh language into our lives. We were welcomed by elder Audrey Rivers who gave a brief history of the language, and who honoured some of our community members in attendance who have worked tirelessly to strengthen Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim.

Letters from the Future

Facilitator Chris Corrigan led participants through a series of questions and dialogues to help us develop our vision for the future of our language. He asked us why Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim is important, and the reasons we would tell others to learn the language. Participants spoke about the important connections between our language and our cultural identity, about the strength and pride and power that we gain through our language, about the joy of seeing our children speak the language, and about connecting the past and the future.

Chris then asked us to imagine ourselves in a future world where all Squamish Peoples are fluent in Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim. What would be better about this future world? He asked our future selves to complete the sentence “Because we are fluent…”

“… we are able to understand our culture and who we are as Squamish people.”

“… we are closer to living the way our great-grandmothers and ancestors lived.”

“… we know who we are, where we are going, and where we are from.”

“… we are united and strong and healthier.”

Next Steps

Above are just a few example answers. Graphic facilitator Corrina Keeling mapped our ideas throughout the evening, creating a beautiful visioning board for our team to reflect on. At the end of the evening, Chris asked for volunteers to join the Kwi Awt Stelmexw team in pulling all of the information together to create a Vision Statement for the Squamish Language. In the coming months, we will be meeting with this smaller group to create the Vision Statement to be shared for feedback with the wider community. The goal is for this statement to be the first step in mapping out a long-term strategy for the whole community to participate in revitalizing our Skwxwú7mesh Sníchim.

Interview: That our languages thrive, not merely survive

Interview: That our languages thrive, not merely survive

This interview was original posted on

With many Indigenous languages being listed as “critically endangered” as a result of having only a handful of fluent speakers left, it can seem like the one option left is to document these languages before they die out completely. Sort of like the linguistic version of freezing your body and being placed in storage, with the hope that some day in the future you can be thawed out, cured of all your ails, and released into more ideal conditions.

Rather than succumbing to such fatalism, which accepts language death now and only the faint hope of rebirth “one day”, some Indigenous youth are choosing to dedicate themselves to bringing their languages back into health in the present.

In the first of a series on language revitalization programs, here is an interview with 26 year old Khelsilem about his effort to radically increase the number of speakers of Sk̲wx̱wú7mesh sníchim.

1.) What’s your elevator pitch? What’s the project, in 30 seconds or less?

Khelsilem is spearheading a 2 year long, adult immersion language program.

Khelsilem is spearheading a 2 year long, adult immersion language program.

The Temstl’í7 ta Sníchim Program is a full-time Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) language immersion program that runs over two school years. Students attend from 9am-4pm Monday to Friday from September through April for approximately 1,000 immersion hours per year. Attendance is limited to fifteen participants. The objective of the program is to foster language skills in three areas: interpersonal communication, presentational speaking, and interpretive listening. Students who complete the program can become some of the most proficient second-language speakers of the Squamish Language.

2.) How did you get SFU on board with this, and what does their support look like?

Simon Fraser University is the second largest university in Vancouver. The First Nations Language Centre at SFU, within the Department of Linguistics and Department of First Nations Studies, created the ‘First Nations Language Proficiency Certificate’ program. This program is a general language program focused on increasing a learner’s proficiency in a target language. They program has partnered with approximately 11 different Indigenous languages in BC and Yukon to offer university-accredited courses in various Indigenous languages.

Our organization, in partnership with SFU through the First Nations Language Centre, will work with this program. Whereas other communities have hosted the courses as 3-hour weekly classes, we’re taking the same program and implementing it on a full-time basis – meaning 4 courses in the fall semester and 5 courses in the winter semester for a total of 27 credits per year for students. One other adjustment our approach is taking is to teach courses previously or normally taught as English-medium courses; all 9 courses will be taught in the Squamish Language.

Here’s an example of the course topics:

  • FNLG 130 – Practical Phonetics for First Nations Languages
  • FNLG 133 – Introduction to First Nations Language I
  • FNLG 134 – Introduction to FNLG II
  • FNLG 158 – First Nations Language Immersion I
  • FNLG 200 – Introduction to Grammar in a First Nations Language
  • FNLG 233 – Description and Analysis of a First Nations Language I
  • FNLG 234 – Description and Analysis of a First Nations Language II
  • FNLG 258 – First Nations Language Immersion II
  • FNLG 335 – Topics in First Nations Language I
Three hours of language instruction just doesn’t cut it, according to Khelsilem. Not if you want real fluency.

Three hours of language instruction just doesn’t cut it, according to Khelsilem. Not if you want real fluency.

Students will primarily be First Nations members of the Squamish or Tsleil-Waututh Nation and utilize the Post-Secondary funding programs offered by each of these First Nations to cover the tuition fees, books, and materials, as well as a monthly living allowance.SFU’s involvement is fairly minimal at this point. Our organization is handling outreach, recruitment, curriculum development, and materials development. SFU provides space and salaries for the sessional instructors who will teach the course (I’m not allowed to officially state who these will be because of SFU’s hiring policy requiring they post the position later this year but we can probably guess pretty accurately who will be leading the instruction of the program.. haha).

The partnership is the beginning of what we hope can be an ongoing relationship that seeks to identify ways in which SFU can truly implement a policy of redress to the Indigenous peoples’ territory on which they’ve operated for decades.


3.) Why are you focusing on adults?

Among the 4000 or so Squamish Peoples in the world, around 7 speakers exist who have a high level of proficiency in the language with a high level of fluency. Only about 5 of these speakers were raised with the language as their first language. Most of these speakers are over the age of 70.

If we use the Fishman 8-level Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS), the Squamish Language could be firmly classified as stradling stage 8 and 9 , where “(t)he only remaining speakers of the language are members of the grandparent generation or older who have little opportunity to use the language” and “(t)he language serves as a reminder of heritage identity for an ethnic community. No one has more than symbolic proficiency.” We could compare this to, for example, te reo Māori in Aotearoa (New Zealand) classified in different domains between stages 4 through 8.

In the same way colonialism’s strategy to eradicate our languages has been deliberate and strategic, so must we be in reclaiming them. Given our present state, our most useful response would be to focus on “(a)cquisition of the language by adults, who in effect act as language apprentices (recommended where most of the remaining speakers of the language are elderly and socially isolated from other speakers of the language).” To accomplish this, I’ve designed a program to increase the number of speakers in the child-bearing generation. The primary objective is to build the strength of language communities within the homes, fostering intergenerational transmission of the language, but we’re at such a low capacity in terms of the number of knowledgeable speakers that we must first offer a means to increase that number. That’s why we’re focusing on adults.


4.) Will you be accepting non-Indigenous students, or students whose traditional language is not Squamish?

Our program guidelines state: “Applicants to this program must be Indigenous or parenting (or potentially parenting) children with Indigenous ancestry. Priority will be given to those with Squamish ancestry.” Basically, we are open to both non-Indigenous and non-Squamish participants. I’ll address the latter before the former.

Highly fluent adult speakers are needed to raise fluent children.

Highly fluent adult speakers are needed to raise fluent children.

We anticipate there will be significant interest in the approach we are taking – especially the immersion teaching methods we use and will find success with. But here’s the truth: the easiest way to learn ‘how’ we’re creating (Squamish) language speakers is to take our program and become a (Squamish) language speaker. I don’t have the time or ability to go to another language community, learn their language, create the curriculum and materials, and teach them how to run a full-time adult immersion program. The best I can offer is that they come and take our program and experience it directly, and then take the approach and modify it for their linguistic and cultural context.

We also anticipate there is the potential for mixed families who want to be a part of the movement to reclaim our language. Our principle is the Squamish Language belongs to the Squamish People and we should always be in control of it. However, we understand that in the 21st century many of young people are raising families with parents from other backgrounds and we know there will be parents in these family units who would be extremely interested in raising their children in our language. So we know this potential exists and we want to show we are supportive of this. If a non-Indigenous parent has it in their heart to become a speaker of our language so they and their partner can raise their children in our language, why would we deny such an opportunity to create a family unit with TWO parents speaking the language to their child?!

5.) What do you want to see this program accomplish in the next 4 years? 10 years? What will graduates be doing?

The objective of our program is to increase the number of speakers of the Squamish Language. We differ from past attempts to increase the number of language speakers in that our goal is not to increase the number of language teachers. That goal is too limited. Our focus shouldn’t be to increase the number of teachers. Our goal should be to increase the number of homes speaking the language as their primary mode of communication, and raising their children with intergenerational language support. The need for more “teachers” will then arise naturally. Just like, eventually, the need for a language immersion daycare, a language immersion elementary school, and a language immersion secondary school will all flow from having the language rooted strongly in the homes first and foremost.

1000 instructional hours in Sk̲wx̱wú7mesh sníchim is a serious commitment that will pay off in more ways than one.

1000 instructional hours in Sk̲wx̱wú7mesh sníchim is a serious commitment that will pay off in more ways than one.

The simple goal of our program is to produce 15 highly proficient speakers each year. By 2027 (which will be the ten year anniversary of the program) we hope to have created at least 150 additional highly proficient speakers in the community. By 2037, we imagine this growing to 300 or more, all of whom will be primarily in the child-bearing generation producing children and hopefully raising those children in our language.

I also anticipate the graduates will find themselves highly employable as they become some of a very limited number of specialists in the Squamish Language. I also imagine some graduates using the knowledge gained to start their own businesses, such as a child-care centre or tutoring business for families seeking to increase their family knowledge of the language.


6.) Two years of full-time immersion in the language is a lot. What the heck are you going to do every day, all day? Are you worried about running out of material to keep it motivating?

Our program activities centre on three main areas of focus: interpersonal communication, presentational speaking, and interpretive listening. The program is very carefully mapped out for Year 1 where we’ll operate on a two-week schedule structure. The program will follow this general structure:

Week 1:
A Block on Mondays and Wednesdays
B Block on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
C Block on Fridays.
Week 2:
B Block on Mondays and Wednesdays
A Block on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
C Block on Fridays.

A blocks will focus on interpersonal communication (conversation drills, back and forth dialogue, lessons on learning how to ask and answer all question forms). B blocks will focus on presentational speaking (announcements, invitations, presentations on a topic such as a landmark, person, or event). Interpretive listening activities will happen throughout.  Fridays will be the most “fun” days, with more interesting or exciting activities scheduled on those days, such as guest speakers and group outings.

This will be our first year testing out the entire curriculum plan, so I imagine there will be adjustments as we go along but at this stage we know there’s a significant amount of grammar to cover and a significant amount of language skills that need to be practiced, trained, and mastered.


7.) Are you going to focus first on orality, or literacy, or both? How will that be broken down over the program?

As with every language program, literacy in the language (if desired) should come after the student has acquired some language speaking skills and communicative ability. This is how many of us learned to successfully read and write English – years after learning to speak and communicate with it.

So literacy will be a focus at various points in the program, but very minimally and only to aid language learners by giving them a tool for note-taking and communication purposes.

8.) What research did you do to come up with this program?

Five years I met Teyotsihstokwáthe Tekarihóken, Mohawk graduate who graduated from theOnkwawenna Kentyohkwa adult immersion Mohawk program in Six Nations, Ontario. She had explained to me how they create language speakers in the Mohawk nation with adult immersion programs in Six Nations, Kahnawake, and others. It was the first time I’ve heard of such an approach but it made sense. If you want to become an engineer, or an accountant, or a lawyer, there a programs that teach you the skills and knowledge to those professions. Yet, very often, there are no programs within the post-secondary institutions that focus on full-time language programs. And far too often, when language programs do exist within the universities, they are linguistics based programs, not immersion based programs. Linguistics is nice — if you want to learn how to talk about a language — but it won’t create highly proficient and fluent speakers.

Creating speakers, not merely documenting the language, must be a focus.

Creating speakers, not merely documenting the language, must be a focus.

When I traveled to New Zealand to meet with language educators and activists from the Maori community, they spoke of the same thing. “The first thing we did was get rid of the linguists” I heard. They were no help. They wanted to document the language instead of focusing on how to create more speakers. Bless their hearts, many linguists are trying and do want to help, but I think for many of our communities we’re realizing too late it’s the wrong tool for the problem we’re dealing with. My friend Suzanne from “Where Are Your Keys?” says it best: linguistics is like taxidermy when what we need is something more like nature preserves. I’m not interested in putting my dead language on a wall for future generations to talk about interesting it is that it has a “feminine and non-feminine pronoun structure” or how other Indigenous languages classify things into “animate and inanimate”.

The lead influences of my approach and the development of this program has been the work and advice of people such as the founder of Where Are Your Keys?  Evan Gardner, socio-lingusit Joshua Fishman, Owennatekha from Six Nations, and Hana O’Regan from Kai Tahu in New Zealand. I especially recommend all language revitalization advocates read and study Joshua Fishman’s work, especially his books Reversing language Shift: Theory and Practice of Assistance to Threatened Languages, Can Threatened Languages Be Saved?, and Do Not Leave Your Language Alone: The Hidden Status Agendas Within Corpus Planning in Language Policy. The Fishman approach is something every director of a language program needs to understand and implement in my opinion.


9.) Do you have any applicants? Do you worry about filling all the spots in the class?

As of right now we have around 24 potential applicants for only 15 spots. This was a similar case for the Mohawk adult immersion programs. They have waitlists for their programs because the demand is so high.


10.) Do you have fears about students leaving part way through the program?

We think there is always the potential for students to drop-out part way through due to various reasons, but we are specifically asking all who are chosen to be a part of the program to seriously commit. We will be stressing this is an opportunity not available to everyone and that they were carefully selected for the program.


11.) What do you think are the main obstacles to this program being a success?

This program is about rejecting “linguistic taxidermy”.

This program is about rejecting “linguistic taxidermy”.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle for success is our own people. Maybe I worry too much about power-hungry or ego-driven people out there who will jump at a chance to sabotage others’ successes because they are jealous, or not in control, or lacking self-esteem. It happens a lot in our Indigenous communities when people try to break the status-quo or push back against complacency.

However, I keep thinking about the words of Maori language activist Hana O’Regan when she says “Our language was deliberately stripped from us. We need to be just as deliberate about getting it back!”

From where I stand, I have one outlook of where we are at currently, I have a vision for where we can go, and I have a strategy for getting us there. If anyone has other ideas, I’m happy to hear them. But doing nothing is the only way we can kill our languages.

12.) What do you think are the reasons this program WILL succeed?

The young people in my community crave their heritage and language. Many now understand that they don’t have this thing because it was deliberately made that way. And they want it for themselves for all kinds of reasons.

But we also know no one is going to become a language speaker form 2-3 hours of instruction per week. If you want fluent speakers, you do immersion. Plain and simple. And if you’re not increasing the number of language speakers in your language community, you’re not saving your language. You’re hospicing it. Not death with a bang, but with a slow silent lonely whimper.

I believe this program will succeed because none of this would be possible without the foresight and diligence of those who came before me. This program can only exist because others laid the path for us and we’re just walking it finally. I believe we will succeed because my people will see us taking our power back, and people will be clamoring to be a part of that.

And not only that, others from other peoples will take notice and want to join in too.

13.) How do you say “Métis In Space” in Squamish?

The Métis have left this world, indeed!

The Métis have left this world, indeed!

This is funny. We have such a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-centric view of the world. Our word for all Indigenous peoples east of the Rocky Mountains is Lheḵetá. So I’m told Métis In Space could be said like: Na wa huyá7wit ti ḵ’eḵ’sin̓ ti siyát-shen tkwetsi lhek’éta.

Don’t laugh. I’m serious! Haha.

The phrase is literally saying “The Metis have left this world”.

(All pictures except the last one, by Thosh Collins)