A colourful work of art featuring four characters.

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September 28, 2023
Untitled. Original artwork by Chief Lady Bird, commissioned by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Celebrating a love of Indigenous languages

September 28, 2023

They may live hundreds of kilometres apart, but these four knowledge keepers share the same passion for preserving the vitality and beauty of Indigenous languages and cultures.

Daisy Sewid-Smith is no stranger to the accolades that often come from hard work.

As a published author and linguist at the University of Victoria, her list of accomplishments is long: numerous publications and collaborations in the academic world, recognition as an expert on the history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, not to mention the honorary PhD.

If you search Daisy’s name on the Internet, her translation of her grandmother’s memoirs as a community matriarch and non-literate storyteller dominate the results.

But it’s her work in language preservation in her community that really matters most to her.

“I’ve had a long and successful career, but I’m most proud of the work I have done in language. … I’ve spent my life teaching our Kwak̓wala language and supporting those in our community who seek to learn it.”

— Daisy Sewid-Smith


And that’s the reason she was recently given an Honorary Recognition for Cultural Carriers recognition by the Canada Council for the Arts. 

Made possible by an anonymous donation to support Indigenous artists living in Canada and by an additional contribution from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) as part of its support for the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages, the unique recognition honours those cultural carriers whose artistic and cultural endeavours further the use and promotion of Indigenous languages.

Cultural Carriers are people—including Elders, knowledge keepers and traditional educators—whose role in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities supports the preservation and sharing of Indigenous worldviews, cultural practices and traditions through art and creative practice.

Daisy is certainly not alone in receiving the accolade for remarkable contributions to the arts, cultures and languages.

On the east coast, Rose Meuse—a multi-disciplinary artist working as a musician, cultural interpreter, craftsperson and Mi’kmaw language instructor from L’sitkuk (Bear River First Nation in Nova Scotia)—was also recognized for her work as a leader in Mi’kmaw language reclamation.

“My arts and cultural practices come from the language itself. I often focus on a root word I’ve learned in our language and then create a story around that teaching. As a cultural teacher, I share stories within my community as well as with the public. Sometimes those are stories from long ago, and yet other times they are newer or from my own life. It is my passion to carry on the tradition of oral storytelling as a method of teaching, relaying cultural practices, history lessons, and inspiring our youth and others about living in a good way.”

Handgame player, tipi maker, instructor, cultural interpreter and residential school survivor Sheldon First Rider, of the Blood Nation in southern Alberta, was also recognized for his work revitalizing the Blackfoot language and way of life.

“I’ve focused much of my life on promoting the Blackfoot way of life and being socially active for my people. My goal is to educate and teach all people, revitalize the Blackfoot language and reconnect to the Blackfoot way of life.”

— Sheldon First Rider

And Elder Celestine Twigg of the Blackfoot Kainai Nation was also recognized for her work as a long-time language educator.

“I’ve been working in the Alberta education system building language and traditional knowledge curricula for over 30 years,” explains Celestine. “I use my skills and knowledge to support activities and to do my part to preserve the Blackfoot language and culture, to benefit the whole community.”

The recognitions for Daisy, Rose, Sheldon and Celestine’s work promoting languages and cultures are timely, as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages—as proclaimed by the United Nations—draws global attention to the critical status of many Indigenous languages around the world and the need to encourage preservation, revitalization and promotion.

In recognizing the achievements of these four cultural carriers, whose work is fundamental to preservation of the artistic and cultural expressions of Indigenous people, the Canada Council stated, “As there is increasing awareness that many Indigenous languages around the world are facing a critical moment, the revitalization of these languages and commitment to building appreciation for expression and culture is increasingly important.”