At West Kalum Road coming onto Hwy 16, drivers will notice the familiar hexagon red road sign looks a bit different with the word ‘GYILOO’ written across it.
As part of a movement to promote and celebrate their Indigenous language, Kitsumkalum has installed their first stop sign in Sm’algyax following grant funding from the First People’s Cultural Council.
This stop sign is the first of many expected to be put up in Kitsumkalum. This project stems from a traditional language initiative started by the late elder Mildred Roberts that also encompasses language classes, classroom resources and a community language book.
“Aunty Mildred was a strong language advocate, she was a fluent speaker and was one of the first leads that worked hard to revive the usage of Sm’algyax, she wrote books, songs, did what she could to help us learn our language,” says Heather Bohn, Kitsumkalum communications coordinator in a press release.
At a recent community feedbank planning session, Kitsumkalum members expressed a strong interest in learning Sm’algyax. The idea of putting up a stop sign in the traditional language is an easy way for residents to learn a new word in their everyday routines.
As with many Indigenous languages in Canada, Sm’algyax was suppressed through the residential school system where many children were punished for speaking their own language.
“I grew up hearing my late mother, Victoria Roberts talk to her siblings on the phone speaking our language, it always sounded so incredible, but my mother would not speak to us in Sm’algyax,” says Kitsumkalum band councilor Cynthia Bohn in the release.
“Later in life, I asked her why she never taught us and she said she didn’t want us to go through what she did at Indian Day School in Spa Xksuutks (Port Essington), so she was obviously scarred from what happened there.”
No timeline has been given on when the community can expect more stop signs like this to be installed.