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Brown Guilt | Denzel Sutherland-Wilson

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

I can’t remember when I learned that our

language was dying. I can’t remember who

told me that there were two options: learn the

language, or fail my ancestors. Maybe I can’t

remember because I was born with that feeling.

Why? Why do we need to learn our languages?

Why is it so important?

I don’t think I ever bothered asking myself;

even now, it feels wrong even questioning

myself, let alone writing it down. But I think it is

an important question, nonetheless. At the

heart of the matter, I think the motivation to learn

one’s language should come from within, the

motivation to learn one’s language should be for

yourself, your nation, your ancestors.

Learning your language shouldn’t be so you

can better perform Indigeneity for White

people, who seem to be in charge of putting the

validation stamp on our existence cards. The

truth is, a lot of the pressure to learn the language

seems to come from the settlers that directly

benefit from colonialism. Maybe if we learned to

be Native again, they would feel less guilty.

Learning Gitxsanimx is incredibly important to

me. Not so that I can add it to my resume, or a

get a slew of compliments after delivering a prayer

to show how spiritual and traditional I am. Not

so that I can be a better Native. Not so that I can

make myself feel a little better than those “less

authentic” Natives that have also been robbed

of their language -- worse than robbed, cleaned

out. Not so I can impress some girl, Native or

otherwise. If I wanted to do that, I would just buy

her some pow wow earrings.

When I say any word in Gitxsanimx, it feels a

little bit like I’m slapping colonialism in the

face. Or at least squeezing its hand really tight

as I send it on its way like a cousin who I finally

realize isn’t going to pay me back. I don’t take kind-

ly to people, let alone concepts, that overstay their


For me, the first and most important step of the

journey is coming to peace with why I want to

learn the language, why it feels like my duty to do

my very best to learn.

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