The Language of Connection: Myia Antone gets Indigenous Women Outdoors and learning from each other
“I thought I was going in a whole different career path and now I get to speak language and teach my family, friends and students language all day,” recounts Brackendale, BC born and raised Myia Antone. She is a full-time Squamish language teacher, teaching at an eight-month adult immersion program through Simon Fraser University alongside up to five teachers on any given day. Students start often with no language knowledge and find more fluency with hundreds of hours of immersion time. Outside of the classroom, she is a mom-to-be and founder of a nonprofit called Indigenous Women Outdoors.
For three years now, Antone has been speaking the Squamish language, having graduated from the program she teaches in. Her undergraduate degree from UBC was in environmental sustainability. She wanted to take the Squamish language program to learn more about where she’s from and so she could talk about plants and animals in her language at work and to be able to speak it outside. That’s where her path turned unexpectedly.
“Once I got into it, I just fell in love with the language. I picked it up pretty quickly and I spent all of my time after class practicing and teaching myself and learning more,” she recalls. Antone finished the certificate program, got a summer internship where she was able to continue her fluency, then was offered a diploma program to learn more. She stayed on to become a teacher in the beginner program.
“I think language learning, specifically Indigenous languages, and, and also your own language, there's so many emotional barriers to it. It can be really embarrassing to start as an adult learning your language and not knowing how to introduce yourself or you know how to talk in the language that your ancestors talked in,” she reflects. Antone remembers her own embarrassment in not wanting to admit she didn’t know her language, but she pushed through and recognized she’s not going to pronounce everything right all the time, even now.
When she’s speaking her language, she struggles to turn off the English part of her brain. The structure of the two languages is different, just like the worldview and perspectives the words represent. “I just had to keep pushing through and keep practicing and being gentle with myself,” Antone recalls.
“There are so many ways to reconnect to yourself or to stay connected to yourself, your culture and your community.”
Growing up, Antone didn’t have a strong connection to language, culture and community, but learning her language has been an entry point for reconnection. “Since then, it's opened up so many doors of reconnecting to different family members or connecting to our spiritual practices, reconnecting to our land more. All of that has come with taking the one step of starting to learn my language,” she explains.
The advice she has for her younger self is “It doesn't have to be language learning for you or for anyone, but it can be. Any piece of culture that you feel connected to, or that you want to learn more about is like the perfect step to take and you don't have to know what's going to come out of it and you don't have to see the bigger picture of it all but just that one step or going to that one workshop or reaching out to that one family member can open so many doors. Just do it, it's scary and can be intimidating, but you'll be so grateful in the end that you did it and you'll be able to share your whole journey.”
What she’s found is that language isn’t a nine-to-five job, and especially with a baby on the way, she’s always thinking about ways to teach it to her partner and unborn daughter. She focuses on language she can use in her everyday life and during her time outdoors so it’s not so overwhelming. Iit doesn’t feel like a job to her. “In the end, I feel so lucky to get paid to do what I love,” she beams. She also tries to find balance by reducing her screen time and getting outside in the fresh air.
Her non-profit, Indigenous Women Outdoors, came to be in 2020, starting off as a hiking group for women in her nation. She got a grant to run biweekly hikes that were really fun. People were getting outside and training to come out on hikes and Antone was motivated to grow her organization and help more people, particularly urban Indigenous people who aren’t connected to their home communities or culture.
The programming has expanded and includes mentorship programs for people who are new to sports, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and snowshoeing. They try to help people learn to get the right gear and the right knowledge to safely participate. Participants are also learning from each other about language and culture. “Really what it boils down to is just a way to hang out with other Indigenous people and just have fun outside,” Antone shares proudly.
Antone has found language learning is so much more than words. “You learn so much more than just language, you learn how to be in the world and how to hold yourself and how our ancestors looked at and understood the world and how to practice that in today's more modernized world,” she explains. “I just look up to all my language teachers so much they have constantly shown me kindness and generosity and have taken me under their wing to not only teach me language, but how to be the best woman I can be,” she continues.
She thought she was going in a whole different career path and now Myia Antone gets to speak language and teach her family, friends and students language all day. From the classroom to the great outdoors, the Squamish language is a part of her whole life. In creating space to share it outside, she’s found herself on the inside of a cultural community that inspires her every day.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.