Skaydu.û Jules

Words on the Water: Language Learner Skaydu.û Jules Journeys Towards Cultural Revitalization

“It's really uplifting to be able to have my culture and my language to really be there and hold me up because they say the language has a spirit and that spirit has really taken care of me these last couple of years,” says Skaydu.û Jules. She is of Teslin Tlingit and Alaskan ancestry and a woman of the eagle clan, also belonging to the wolf moiety. 

Lately, she’s been living in Juneau, Alaska, learning her language and culture as a full-time third-year university student. She’s taking a Bachelors of Indigenous Studies, with an emphasis in Alaska native languages and a minor in Outdoor Studies. She teaches the Tlingit language through the Yukon Native Language Center and Simon Fraser University’s beginner classes three times a week and also Tlingit language yoga classes

In addition, Jules is part of the Yukon First Nations Climate Action fellowship, having been born a Land Steward and continuing to fight for Mother Earth. “A lot of my time goes to that just being out on the land and speaking for the ones who can't speak for themselves,” she reflects, thinking of all the committees she sits on. “I just try to stay busy and try to help out where I can and where there's need,” she explains. 

She’s also doing traditional formline and has been learning to carve from her mentor Wayne Price. She helped carve a 28 foot red cedar dugout canoe and was invited to be part of his canoe family in honour of her contribution to his work. She helped find the funding for them to participate in Tribal Journeys, a ten-day canoe journey on the Salish Sea. 

Traveling between Indigenous communities, singing, eating traditional foods, spending time with allies, she describes it as “one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.” The journey was long, driving from Alaska to Prince Rupert, taking the ferry, spending time with friends along the way and observing traditional Indigenous waterway protocol. 

While it was an amazing experience, it was challenging. “In the beginning, we only had three pullers and Wayne for an eight-puller dugout. That was really difficult. Those were the toughest days, I think, weather wise and then obviously, it was tough because it's a 400 pound dugout because it's made out of old growth. So it was really challenging but it made us stronger, more connected as a family,” she recalls.

Thinking of her own journey since high school, Jules did a Japanese exchange program and then spent three years at fashion school which has helped her make regalia and Indigenous clothing. From there, she went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia as part of an Indigenous youth internship program supporting Indigenous allies with translations, planting trees, and teaching English. “That's where I had this catalyst moment where I was teaching English and I was actually pretty good at it, no experience teaching it besides knowing the language. I was like, ‘why am I not doing this with my own language? Or why am I teaching this colonized language when I could be learning my own and teaching my language with this skill?” she recounts.  

Her advice to youth considering going onto post secondary is to apply for scholarships as so much funding sits unclaimed. She also recommends making sure you have social support, people to talk to about your experiences. 

When it comes to travel, Jules recommends funded exchange programs as a way to give back instead of typical tourist experiences. She participated in the Battlefields program in high school and her Cambodian travel was also funded. Those experiences fostered deep connection with the people of the land. 

Some of her biggest obstacles have been having to work harder in classes outside of her Indigenous language programming to meet general education requirements. “A lot of those classrooms aren't really made for us to succeed and so you have to work 10 times harder,” she laments. That takes away from her language learning. Beyond that, having to exist in spaces that aren’t always safe for Indigenous women can also be challenging, but she does what she can to uplift others and be safe for other people.

To stay on top of her mental health, Jules walks her dog daily, spending time on the land. If she doesn’t harvest with her family for fish and hunting camp, it significantly impacts the rest of her year. Beyond her mental health, the camps feed her through the winter, helping her afford to do things, letting her know what’s in her food and that ceremony has been done for it. “It's really good for our spirit and our energy, and it's a big part of my self care,” she explains.  The native center at the University has also been helpful in providing her with the support she needs as someone on a healing journey struggling with addictions.

If she could give a message to her younger self it would be, “keep going, keep moving forward.” There were a lot of dark moments where the future seemed uncertain and she needed to believe in herself. Underestimated by racist teachers, she worked hard to prove to herself that she could do it and to build herself up. 

When it comes to inspiration, Jules thinks of all the people she’s met and stories she’s heard at the events she’s attended and places she’s traveled to. She uses social media to inspire others and spends time with her younger brother and with youth. She loves spending time with elders like her grandmother because of all that her generation has done for her. Jules wants to make things easier for the next generation so they don’t have to endure what she did growing up, just like her grandmother did for her. 

"Whatever you do, and wherever you go, it's always important to tell your story and tell the story of where you came from."

Finally, to inspire Indigenous youth, Jules references a Tlingit phrase which translates in English to “our ancestors and our grandparents words, they speak through us.” She says, “whatever you do, your words have a lot of power. Speak your truth because your voice matters. Whatever you do, and wherever you go, it's always important to tell your story and tell the story of where you came from.”

Held up by her language and culture, Skaydu.û Jules is on a journey of revitalization. Paddling towards discovery of self and community, she’s navigating the waters of the life she wants. Learning as a student and sharing as a teacher, Jules is spreading language and culture joy and stretching into the future with her Tlingit yoga classes.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    Yukon Territory
  • Date
    April 15, 2024
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  • Discussion Guide
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