I’ve been thinking a lot about the course, strength, and determination of the Indigenous delegation that travelled to Rome earlier this month to meet with Pope Francis and speak the truth about the genocide orchestrated by clergy in Indian residential schools. I kept hearing reporters asking members of the delegation and the Indigenous community at home what they wanted next in the way of compensation from the church (as if they were fishing for a dollar amount), and the answer always focused on reclaiming and growing Indigenous cultures and languages. It is typical of white privilege to think that money alone can right a wrong. To hear delegates and elders plead for support in restoring the traditions and language that residential schools stripped from generations of Indigenous people emphasizes just how much work the non-Indigenous community still needs to do.
Francis Baptiste, an Indigenous songwriter from the Osoyoos Indian Band, is putting in the work to revive Nsyilxcən [nah-silx-sin], the endangered language of the Syilx [see-ilx] people, of which there are currently fewer than 150 fluent speakers in the world. Baptiste’s forthcoming debut album, Family (Snəqsilxʷ), features several songs sung in Nsyilxcən, like his recent single, “Nknim Qaym Ncut (Sing, Dance)” [ink-neem qui-min-chewt]. While non-Nsyilxcən speakers may not understand what Baptiste is singing, they will understand the context and emotional weight behind “Nknim Qaym Ncut (Sing, Dance).” This song is celebratory yet tempered by the weight of truth. Baptiste’s tone and gravitas suggest hope in Nsyilxcən’s revival while acknowledging that its extinction never had to happen. Baptiste says that his journey in reclaiming Nsyilxcən starts with Family (Snəqsilxʷ). Whether intentional or not, songs like “Nknim Qaym Ncut (Sing, Dance)” can also serve as a starting point for the work non-Indigenous people must undertake on the path to reconciliation.
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