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.