CARRIE: Hi, and welcome to The Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
MEGAN: I’m Megan Figueroa.
CARRIE: And I’m Carrie Gillon. Today we have our second guest: Dr. Peter Jacobs.
MEGAN: Hi Peter!
PETER: Ha7lh skwayel.
CARRIE: Hi. Peter Jacobs is a professor at Simon Fraser University and he works on language revitalization. He’s a speaker of Squamish and also Kwakw’ala, right?
CARRIE: Very excited to have you on the show. Also I have known Peter for 20 years. That’s when I first started working on Squamish, as a very young, 21-year-old undergrad.
MEGAN: Peter, you’re also a member of the Squamish Nation, right?
CARRIE: Yes, that’s also important. So today we’re gonna talk about a bunch of different things: a little bit about Rez English, a little bit about Indigenous languages spoken in Canada and the United States, language revitalization – just whatever comes up. But those are our main topics. Let’s just start with Rez English. So why did we want to talk about Rez English or Indigenous languages? Well first, because we barely talk about it in the wider culture. In fact we kind of ignore Indigenous peoples, especially in the United States, completely. It’s almost like they’re gone. So, to talk about people that still exist, damnit, and still speak different varieties of English, but also different languages. So what features does Rez English even have? Because, if you think about it, it’s people from all over North America, excluding Mexico, that originally, and still do in some cases, speak a different language. So what are the shared features in common?
PETER: Just like anything I think, there’s regional Rez Englishes.
PETER: Because I come from two different language groups in BC, I know the Rez English of these two different areas. My first story is: I was down in Arizona a number of years ago with my cousins from Squamish, and we met a relative of mine who is from my mom’s side of my family. She lives in the Phoenix area. We hadn’t seen each other for a while. We start talking. After we’re done, we left. My Squamish cousin said, “Wow, did your English ever change when you and your cousin from North Vancouver Island started talking!” I was never aware of how different they were. I’m not exactly sure what all those things are.
CARRIE: Right. MEGAN: So you say that you can speak two different Rez Englishes?
MEGAN: Do you find yourself code-switching then? So you know when you’re doing it? Do you speak them at certain times? Are you conscious of it at all?
PETER: I’ve become more conscious of it as I’ve gotten older. I think that was one instance where I really became aware that people noticed my Rez Englishes. But my nephew now, who’s a young adult, we were up on the North Vancouver Island, on my mom’s side of the family, and he was commenting, because he actually has another Rez English from even further up Northern BC. He was doing this really insightful analysis of how people talked in all of these different situations. I thought it was really quite brilliant, as a young person. But he was at the advantage of having three, not just two, plus standard English.
MEGAN: I like what you’re saying about your nephew, because it reminds me that everyone’s a linguist in a way. We can call ourselves linguists, but it’s, I think, a term that can be applied to anyone that uses language. We all notice these things, because we all speak it, or sign. We all have language. I thought that was very cool.
PETER: I think one of the defining things is probably some type of intonational patterns that people use. I don’t know enough about intonation to say what they are, but if someone really exaggerates it – and we do, sometimes really exaggerate it – I think that’s what it’s really picking up on, it’s certain styles of intonation. I don’t know if that’s interplay between our parents’ or grandparents’ first language, or what. I have never ever gone that far to find out.
CARRIE: Yeah, the very little research that there is seems to suggest that, at least in the United States, it has to do with people coming from different languages and learning English together. So they all have the same intonation pattern. They call it a contour pitch accent, and since I also don’t know that much about prosody and intonation, I can’t replicate it at all.
MEGAN: And it was them coming together to learn English in horrible conditions being boarding schools, correct?
CARRIE: Boarding schools, here in the United States, and residential schools in Canada. And yeah, they are horrific.
MEGAN: Right. So this forcing of English on speakers of other languages, trying to eradicate indigenous languages.
CARRIE: Right, trying to beat the Indian out of them, for example.
PETER: Yes, literally and figuratively.
MEGAN: Right. Peter, did your parents go to in boarding schools? That’s a thing in Canada, as well.
CARRIE: Yeah, they’re called residential schools.
PETER: Yes, I think most of my aunts and uncles and my parents and some of my grandparents went to residential school. My mum’s first language is Kwakw’ala, and I don’t think she learned English until she went to school. My grandfather – one of my grandfathers – went to residential school. He ironically also learned Nlaka’pamux, which is the local language of where the residential school was, which is an Interior Salish language, and he was a speaker of Squamish. And he also learned English. He used to say though that they beat Jesus into us one day of the week and then they beat him out the other six.
CARRIE: Wow. Oh god that’s horrible.
MEGAN: Oh no.
PETER: The Lord works in mysterious ways.
MEGAN: That’s what that quote means; I get it now.
PETER: An interesting thing, I was just thinking about lexical items, people – like the Squamish, like the southern part of BC, and also in Washington, and I found out in Oregon, we all use “innit”. We all say it similarly: “innit?!” I think what’s-his-name from Spokane, he has it in his books. It was in Smoke Signals.
MEGAN: Sherman Alexie.
PETER: Sherman Alexie. When I went to see Smoke Signals, and the characters were using “innit”, and they were using it perfectly right, I just broke out – I actually was hysterically laughing in the theater, because I’d never seen anybody speak Rez English on the screen, eh. It was always this kind of – people always did this kind of stilted English that was supposed to be Native American English, or something like that. But this is people really speaking like how we do today, and it just cracked me up.
ADAM BEACH: Don’t you even know how to be a real Indian?
EVAN ADAMS: I guess not.
ADAM BEACH: Well shit, no wonder, geez. I guess I’ll have to teach you then, innit.
MEGAN: That movie actually had good representation of Rez English?
MEGAN: It did? Ok, well.
PETER: Yeah well, because Evan Adams is really from here in BC.
CARRIE: Yeah. He’s a local boy.
MEGAN: What is an example of “innit” in a sentence?
PETER: People say that it comes from “isn’t it?”, and I guess it probably does at some level.
MEGAN: Ohhhh. PETER: But you know someone says something, someone did something kind of stupid, and you’re all kind of laughing at it, and I go, “innit?” Obviously I don’t know how to translate it. “Innit?”
CARRIE: Yeah, it’s difficult to translate.
PETER: I went to University of Oregon for three years, and I was part of the Native American Student Union, and there was a Navajo student there who had gone to boarding school in Oregon. And we were just sitting around in our little office there, our little space, and just getting to know each other, and then she just said it. She just said “innit”, and it was sort of context for me. I’d never heard anybody – because my mom’s side of my family up in Northern BC, they don’t use it, and they don’t recognize it. It really is certainly a marker of being part of a community. It made me laugh, quite hard.
CARRIE: One of the other things that I noticed, or read about, is that at least in some communities, the intonation used for yes/no questions – so yes/no questions are questions where the answer would be “yes” or “no”, like, “are you hungry?” – in many Rez Englishes, it would sound more flat. “Are you hungry.” Whereas most other speakers of English are going to say “are you hungry?” I think that’s related to the fact that, at least in some Indigenous languages, like Squamish, the intonation is flatter for a yes/no question.
PETER: Yeah. It would take me time to do some introspection to think of – because you have to imagine yourself talking to someone that shares the same English, and then how would you talk to each other, like that, if you were trying to be on the inside. MEGAN: How old were you when you learned Squamish?
PETER: Well, I knew a lot of words, individual words, but I didn’t become conversant until my late twenties, when I was working on the dictionary. That took a long time, because I was just doing elicitation of words and sentences, and it wasn’t really a communicative context. And then students, like Carrie and others, came in and they were also doing elicitation. So in a way – I was just saying to something the other day – I became a speaker of Squamish through elicitation.
PETER: Which is a fairly privileged position, because I had the opportunity to do that, which most people don’t. And it takes a long, long time to do it that way, because the input is kind of one-sided, eh.
CARRIE: Are there any Kwakw’ala-specific features – the “innit” thing is sort of more Salish-y, I’m guessing. Are there any Kwakw’ala-specific features that you have in your Rez English?
PETER: There’s things that seem to travel around, these generational things, like people used to – not just Kwakw’ala – but a lot of different Rez Englishes had nih. Have you heard nih?
PETER: Yeah, I don’t use it, but I would recognize what people are trying to say when they say nih. It’s kind of the generation below me, but it seemed to travel around, eh. So maybe some Rez English things started to travel more as people were having more contact with people regularly, and sports, and intermarriage and everything.
MEGAN: To clarify for listeners: you do not have to speak an Indigenous language to speak Rez English, correct?
PETER: No, not at all.
MEGAN: And in fact – unfortunately, the way that things are – they are probably more Rez English speakers than there are bilingual English and Indigenous.
PETER: Sure. For most of us, Rez English is our first language. And then we learn standard Canadian English, or whatever. French and stuff.
MEGAN: And then at some point you may learn your tribal language, but a lot of times that comes later in life for people, is that right?
PETER: Yeah, things are changing, and there’s a lot more going on than there was even like 20 years ago when Carrie started working with Squamish.
CARRIE: Yeah now there’s an immersion school, so kids are getting more at least. Also “tribal” is not a word we use in Canada.
MEGAN: Oh what do you use?
CARRIE: Nation, I guess.
MEGAN: So, national language? If you’re doing adjectival?
PETER: That’s a good question.
MEGAN: First Nation language.
CARRIE: First Nations language, I think you would say. Or if it’s not First Nations, because again, if it’s Inuit, they’re not First Nations, they’re Inuit. They’re separate. So: it’s complicated. That’s why I keep using Indigenous, because it’s a sort of a catch-all for a much larger group.
PETER: You know until we all fall in line, we’re just gonna have to wrestle with all of that, eh.
MEGAN: Oh I see you’re Canadian English coming out.
PETER: Yes. There’s a question about Rez English, and I was having this conversation with Strang Burton. He said it could very well be that Rez English is a representation of how English was spoken many generations previously, right. So it’s kind of fossilized or being maintained or something in in the community, because “eh” is very strongly used and on the rise.
CARRIE: Yeah, and less so in urban areas in Canada. I use “eh” sometimes but I don’t have the full range of “eh” that Peter does.
PETER: I tried to teach her, but she just couldn’t get it, yeah.
CARRIE: It’s true!
MEGAN: Is “eh” more of a rural thing then?
RICK MORANIS: Good day, welcome to the Great White North. I’m Bob McKenzie. This is my brother Doug.
DAVE THOMAS: How’s it going, eh?
RICK MORANIS: Ok, our topic today is the great white north, cuz we gots like lots of mail, eh, like about it, eh. Ok, so.
DAVE THOMAS: By the way, this topic was my idea, eh.
PETER: People consciously try to get rid of it to sound less rural, because it’s stigmatized.
MEGAN: Of course.
PETER: So what happened for me that changed me, I might have gone that same route. When I was living in Oregon, people were constantly picking out whenever I used it, and then it made me use it even more, so now I have it. I was a young adult then, and it stuck with me.
CARRIE: That’s good. You should be proud of the “eh”.
PETER: I am.
CARRIE: I kind of wish I had it.
PETER: There’s one other thing I wanted to say about Rez English. I don’t remember particularly who it was, but someone did a master’s project looking at Squamish English, and they looked at the pronunciation of the consonants and vowels and particular lexical uses of words, and stuff like that. What they found was – because Squamish people first learned English in the residential school system or through the church, from French nuns and priests, so there’s an influence of French English onto the first people learning Squamish, like my grandparents’ generation. And then later, they were all Irish. So then there’s an influence of Irish English on Squamish peoples. So it’s a very Squamish-specific thing, because of the interaction of the Catholic Church and different generations of how they sent out missionaries to our Rezes.
CARRIE: If you can send me that master’s thesis, because I think people might be interested in it. We could put something about it on our Tumblr.
MEGAN: Before we move on from Rez English – Smoke Signals, I listened to a clip of it. Would you say that the tone, the way that he speaks is the kind of tone that you’re talking about? Or the intonation?
PETER: Yes. Oh yeah. Evan Adams, in particular. He worked pretty hard. He doesn’t talk like that all the time. He’s a doctor now.
CARRIE: Right, yeah, in Vancouver!
PETER: He’s a medical doctor, and he has a big position looking at Aboriginal health in the province and that.
MEGAN: So we have a really good example to put in a podcast so people can listen to the kind of international patterns. Okay, yeah, I was listening to it; it’s definitely noticeable.
EVAN ADAMS: You’re in the 60s. Arnold Joseph was the perfect hippie, because all the hippies were trying to be Indians anyway. But because of that, he was always wondering how anybody would know when an Indian was trying to make a social statement.
CARRIE: To me, it sounds kinda normal, cuz you know, I’ve heard these accents my whole life. But yeah, I think it’s really, really different if you’re from here. Nobody really talks like that down here.
MEGAN: They did have some examples of Navajo speakers kind of having that international pattern as well. So maybe in Northern Arizona, instead of Southern we’d maybe hear it more.
CARRIE: Yes, you would. Speaking of Navajo – or Diné Bizaad, as it’s known in its own language – I had a PhD student – I was on his committee – and he was working on speech pathology on the Navajo Reservation, because he’s Diné himself. And he wanted to show, ok, what’s normal for Navajo kids, and what’s abnormal, so that speech pathologists would actually be able to distinguish between normal Navajo English versus a kid with some sort of disordered speech. This is really important and gets kind of lost because people want children to have only standard English. One of the things that he pointed out to me is that “class”, the word “class”, like “I’m going to class” is pronounced “tlass” [tɬæs] by many Navajo English speakers. So it’s a “tl” [tɬ] sound, which, hard to describe, but it’s a very different sound from the “k”, “l” sounds. So anyway, I just thought that was interesting.
PETER: It sounds better. “tlass” [tɬæs]
CARRIE: It’s one of my favorite sounds “tlass” [tɬæs], and you don’t get to use it in English.
MEGAN: And it’s really important that he’s pointing those things out, because, if someone was ignorant to what Navajo English looks like, then they might see that as a symptom of disorder, if they put all these things together incorrectly. It tells a different story.
CARRIE: Exactly. That’s exactly what he was trying to say.
MEGAN: That’s really important work.
PETER: In generations previous to me who were learning English, there was certainly much more influence, because they were first language speakers of different languages. Their English inventory would be different. So people in a lot of northern communities didn’t make a distinction between /s/ and /ʃ/ (“sh”). So, “shoes” would be pronounced “zoos”. That’s changed now, because most people have English as their first language. CARRIE: Yeah, that changes over time. Ok, so let’s maybe switch to talking a little bit more about Squamish, Kwakw’ala, other Indigenous languages that we want to talk about. We already talked about Squamish, but what was it like learning Kwakw’ala?
PETER: Well, my dad’s not a first language speaker of Squamish and so I didn’t grow up learning the language from him. We just had some common words that we all knew, like push [poʃ] for “cat” and skwemáy’ [sqwəmájʔ] for “dog” and séxwa7 [sə́χwaʔ], because as a kid you could say sexwa7, which means “to pee”. So you could say it in public without embarrassing your parents. And méchen [mə́ʧən] for “head lice”. This small group of words that we all know – there’s some plants that we knew, because we used to go and pick them, and so we knew the Squamish words for that. But in Kwakw’ala, though my mom is a first language speaker and everybody and all of our siblings and my grandparents – and so we went to visit them, people didn’t speak English unless they were talking to us. And so I was surrounded by the language in a much, much different way than Squamish. I’ve done some immersion learning now in Kwakw’ala. Some of it is just feeling like things got are getting unlocked, like “oh yeah, that’s what that word is” or “that’s how you say that”. I’m not around it enough to have that all the time, but I think I’m somewhere farther along on Kwakw’ala in terms of exposure for my youth than Squamish, by far. However, like I said in that generation, everybody was Kwakw’ala speakers. Now, when we’re doing counts out of like 8,000 people, there’s probably maybe 150 who are first language speakers. So that’s changed drastically in the last 20 years, eh.
CARRIE: Yeah that shows just how quick these transitions can be, these language shifts, as they’re called.
PETER: Because when I was a kid there’s probably like a couple thousand, eh.
CARRIE: So that leads us right into language revitalization, which is trying to stop that and turn the tide in the other direction, get people to speak the Indigenous language again. I know that you’re involved with that. Do you want to talk about anything in particular: your research or a project that you’re involved with.
PETER: Yeah you know a lot of a lot of our communities started with language activities in the 70s, and it was very much mirrored with what was going on for French at the time, which was like three times a week for 20 or 30 minutes. Then a lot of our communities got agreements from the school boards that we could teach our languages instead of French in elementary school. But of course, like anybody who’s taken French that way does not become a French speaker, anybody who takes their Indigenous language that way, also does not become a speaker of their language. It becomes a language appreciation type of activity. You become aware of it, and gain some appreciation for the differences between languages, but you do not become a speaker. Since that time, a number of some communities, not a lot in BC, but a few have moved towards having their own immersion schools modeled somewhat after the French immersion schools here in Canada. And then branching out with other emerging communities around the world who are doing similar things, like the Maoris in New Zealand and the Hawaiians in Hawaii have led the way in promoting immersion now. A lot of us are moving to immersion style teaching in many different ways, whether it’s in the elementary school or high school. A big movement that is happening right now is two-year immersion programs for adults, and it’s full-on immersion for like 1800 hours over two years. I don’t know if it was the American army, or whoever, was recommending how many hours it would take to become a good conversational speaker of a language. So people have been creating programs like this now. A young guy in our Squamish community did that. Last year was the first year, and the students came out with the ability to have spontaneous conversations in the language about things that they’d never talked about before.
MEGAN: That’s awesome.
CARRIE: That’s awesome.
PETER: So that’s happening in many places, and of course you want people to get even further. But the fact that we can get that far in a year says it’s not hopeless or impossible, it just requires a dedication and the space and the money to do it. So there’s a second cohort going through this year, and I just saw them the other week. I saw them at the very beginning, and they were all a little bit scared, and then see them few weeks later are able to have some little conversations about stuff in Squamish. They’re not doing reading and writing, so it’s not a literacy-based approach, mostly. So that’s the kind of overview. Now we’re actually finding that the adults are really the important people right now in our communities, because they’re the ones that are doing all the programming, they’re the ones that are teaching, the ones developing resources – and including and putting myself in this group, we are all additional language learners of our own Indigenous language. For me, Squamish is like my fourth language that I’ve spent time learning. It’s not even my second one. So we feel very positive about the possibilities now. We struggled so long trying to do things in the school system, and there’s still a good place for that, but we have to be realistic about how much language our youth are going to get out of an in-school program like that.
CARRIE: Right. And also once there are lots of adults speaking, it makes it easier for children to speak it too, because there are more people for them to talk to. It’s awesome.
MEGAN: Are there people that are teaching their kids, as the kids are babies and growing up? Is that happening at all?
PETER: There’s not a lot of it yet. I was in a program called Mentor-Apprentice, where I was the mentor of the speaker, and then there was a younger adult, and he was the apprentice. So we spent a lot of time, like hundreds of hours just speaking Squamish, and doing different activities, kind of unstructured. But his son would join us often, especially at the very beginning. He would just sit – he was not even 2 yet. So he’s talking with his son and when his son sees me, he’ll make sure to say something in Squamish. The research though on bilingual families is kids need to have one other family where the parents and kids are using the language in order for the kids to spontaneously use it without being prompted, eh. So that’s the next step – got to find another family to do that with. The kids will naturally just speak. One of our students when I was out teaching at UVic, him and his wife – I don’t know they hired or they worked with another young adult – and they became conversational speakers of Mohawk. And then they had kids and they made an agreement to only speak Mohawk to their kids, and so their kids only speak Mohawk at home. They’re the first first-language speakers of Mohawk in that particular community, who lost all their speakers in the last 20 years or so. So that’s pretty exciting. And the kids, they’re very strict, eh. They catch the parents slipping into English and they’ll say this in Mohawk, “that language doesn’t belong in this home! Speak Mohawk!”
MEGAN: Oh I love it!
CARRIE: That’s so great.
MEGAN: That makes me happy.
PETER: We wonder what they’re thinking, but they’re thinking that it’s theirs, right, which it is.
MEGAN: That’s great.
CARRIE: Yes, it is.
PETER: Their language. That’s their identity.
CARRIE: Yeah. When I did some fieldwork in Labrador, there was a girl who – I’m sure she did speak English but she didn’t speak English in front of me, she only spoke Innu-aimun in front of me, which was just awesome. I loved it. It gave me hope.
PETER: There’s a real hunger in our communities for – I often get asked by people who don’t know anything about what’s going on, “how do you get your youth involved?” I don’t think the question is how do we get them involved, because they’re really hungry to know more about themselves, their history, and their language. It’s fine being able to create opportunities for them where they can do that. There’s no way to do 1800 hours of language learning, unless someone’s paying for that, for them to go through and have that experience, with the hopes that will contribute to whatever else is coming in the future. A lot of us are working with institutions, like universities and colleges, to create these type of programs that we can do double purpose. They’ll get credits for it, but they also get the experience of becoming conversational speakers. CARRIE: Hey, Trudeau: hint.
MEGAN: Exactly. Would you say that there’s a really supportive environment surrounding learning the Indigenous language as an adult?
PETER: In Canada, or in my community?
MEGAN: I guess in your community. Do you see it being very supportive.
PETER: I was talking about all of this schooling, this three times a week for 20 or 30 minutes, and how it didn’t create speakers. But something we really know it did do, is it changed the language attitudes of the community to be a very positive language attitude, because there was a lot of reluctance by the community 40 years ago, because they were worried that the kids would be discriminated against, like they were in residential school. So people were ambivalent about it. People are not ambivalent now. It’s really hard to find an ambivalent person in the community about “should we revive our language?” or “we should do it now”. Our problem is we are doing as much as we can, but we’re just a little group of people still. We’re starting to blossom a bit more and have a lot more different avenues for language learning and jobs, even, for people in the community.
MEGAN: It’s great. Do you think outsiders and community members have different perspectives on revitalization? I’m thinking outsiders like linguists that come in, or anyone else that would come in to help with these efforts?
PETER: Keep the outsiders out!
MEGAN: Using the word “outsiders”, making it kind of biased.
PETER: Obviously. I mean I have known Carrie for 20 years, and we call upon her regularly for things that we can, and so we greatly value the support we’ve got for many people in different institutions. That’s one part. Also we have done different types of projects with museums in the city, as a way of promoting knowledge about who we are, but it also is a way to develop language curriculum. You’d be surprised by how many people in Vancouver have no idea – until recently – that there was First Nations that lived in the Vancouver area, and where we lived. Which just seems astounding to me that you could go to a country and not know who the Indigenous people are of that area. It’s not like that [anymore]; the Olympics really changed that. A lot of people know now there’s the Tsleil-Waututh and the Xwməθkwəy’əm and the Skwxwú7mesh, the three First Nations in this area. But it didn’t used to be like that.
CARRIE: That’s true. I think the question was more like outsiders like me have particular ideas about what needs to be done – although I’ve always been more careful about pushing anything on people, because I think that’s bad. I think the perception is that outsiders often have an idea about how to revitalize language and Indigenous peoples have different ideas, which I think it’s true.
PETER: Sure. And of course anybody that’s not part of a community doesn’t know how the community works. And that goes for any community, any small community, and so forth. No one understands how people do things, and you don’t know who all the people are, and how the dynamics of the community work. We could never know that. Even when we’re in the community, it doesn’t mean we really know all those things all the time either. Like how to make decisions, how to convince people to do stuff. You have to really rely on the community to get that done. Say we’re gonna do a new project. When we did the dictionary – this is an example of – we did a print dictionary and we published it through the University of Washington Press. We worked with a number of people in our community and outside on that project. But in the community we made sure to include as many different families and people as we could in the making of the dictionary. So when it came out, and we had a community celebration, people are like, “that’s my grandmother’s dictionary” or “that’s my uncle’s dictionary”. It wasn’t mine and it certainly wasn’t Carrie’s. All of us who are doing all the background work, it didn’t come out as ours. We knew that as a community how to do that. I think it would be really hard as a person outside the community, and even another Indigenous person, to know how it runs in Squamish. You just have to rely upon the people inside. One of my colleagues Lorna Williams, she’s really good at talking about this. She’s Lil’wat, which is a neighboring language to Squamish. When she talks to the Canadian public in general, she said this is this is the heritage of all Canadians. These languages are the heritage of everybody, and it’ll make Canada a stronger and greater place to be, if these languages are respected and promoted and they thrive. There will be benefits to everybody. She says it much better, but anyway, she’s a real big advocate of drawing in everybody that’s willing to help.
CARRIE: Yeah, I think that’s really important. What was the other thing you want to talk about? Oh: prejudice.
MEGAN: Yes, please.
CARRIE: This is a really difficult – where do you even start.
PETER: This is what we say about Canadians. Americans going like, “people are so polite in Canada”. But you could be polite and racist at the same time. That’s very easy to do.
CARRIE: Of course. I saw it. I also saw really overt horrible not polite racism in Canada. But yes. We do we do polite racism very well, sadly.
MEGAN: That sounds like a terrible bumper sticker.
PETER: “You’re doing so well for your people.” I don’t know how many times I hear that. It’s like, “oh my god, please”.
CARRIE: You’ll also hear that here in the United States. “You’re very well-spoken!”
PETER: Thank you.
MEGAN: I guess a question we could ask is: what do you feel are some of the assumptions that folks might make if they hear a speaker of Rez English?
PETER: Less educated. That’s certainly one of them. And I think whatever other kind of stereotypes they have about Indigenous people that reinforces it for them.
MEGAN: That’s a really important point.
PETER: Lazy, unemployed, lacking motivation, whatever. All those things that go along with prejudice against First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada.
MEGAN: Well that makes the point that Carrie and I try to make in the podcast, that all of this is a proxy for racism or for ethnic discrimination, because the way that we speak, there’s no way for you to know if the way I speak shows that I’m lazy. You have no idea from the way that I speak, but that’s the assumptions people make just from listening to folks. So, it’s all a proxy for these deeper embedded racist feelings.
CARRIE: Yeah. So why should you stop judging?
MEGAN: Because it’s fucking racist!
CARRIE: Speak it.
PETER: Racist SOBs. About my own speech – and it’s also not just the things we’re talking about already, like intonation and lexical items, but the way you carry on a conversation.
CARRIE: Mmm, yes.
PETER: It can really preclude many Indigenous people from being included in the conversation, because of how turn taking goes, eh. And how pauses go. I noticed this when I got into the university system, and of course I was more conscious of it, so I had to manipulate my own instinctive ways of talking. And then just keep jumping in and interrupting people and it’s like, “oh god, this feels awful”. But this is the only way I’m ever gonna get something done. If I don’t keep interrupting people. I had to like give up something in order to talk in that situation, because if I didn’t people would just assume that I was agreeing with everything. I’m like, “no”. We’re just gonna sit back and wait for everybody to get their thoughts out, and then we’ll come and talk, but I realized, that time is never coming. No one has that assumption about how our conversations are going. I’m gonna have to change that in order to get my point across.
CARRIE: Yeah, that’s a really good point that I hadn’t thought about consciously when we were talking about this. But I have thought about it previously, that there’s just a different way of communicating. I mean, you expect that: different cultures have different means of communicating. But white people, like me, have a tendency to forget.
PETER: So I think, along with the prejudice, is also that we don’t have something to say, or we don’t really have anything – we don’t feel very confident about ourselves. Because we’re not doing the conversational style of most Canadians, I guess. I don’t know if that’s even true.
MEGAN: I think this must tie into – I’ve heard the stereotype that Indigenous people are soft-spoken. So that must be kind of connected to that, as well?
PETER: Yeah, it’s definitely slower. To hear people talk fast sounds very strange. There are some people in the community who maybe didn’t grow up in the community and they talk really fast, and everybody’s like try to get them to breathe or something. Yeah, that’s one thing: the speed is definitely different.
CARRIE: I hadn’t really thought of the soft-spoken thing. To me, that’s very individual. At least in my experience. That doesn’t mean that the prejudice doesn’t exist or the bias, but I’ve never had that thought.
PETER: I noticed this very Canadian-specific – but I’m sure there’s parallels in the states too – I’ve been telling people whenever I get a chance: you need to let decision makers in your community, whether that’s politicians and others, to know that you’re aware that there’s language revitalization going on, and you support it. And if there’s legislation, you support that. Because people in power assume that if no one says anything, that no one cares. And once people – this is my experience – once people know what we’re doing, and that they might imagine it’s a hopeless cause at first, but then they hear all the cool things that have happened, and they’re very excited. “How could I know more about that?” So even learning more about what’s going on in your local communities, because our argument about language revitalization is all these languages grew up in a local area, and wherever you’re living is a local area of a language that is probably a group of people are seeking to revive it. And to become at least aware of that, and acknowledge it, that’s not a small step for the greater cause. If people know and acknowledge that, and then find out. The differences in the communities, some of us are much further ahead than others, and some communities really need a lot of outside help, and that could be advocacy of some sort, and helping people to make those next steps. In terms of prejudice, this is always true: people who have prejudice, as soon as they get to know people, it gets much harder to carry on with any kind of generalized statements about “Indians”, or about people living on the rez, or all of these things. Most First Nations communities I know here and in this area of the world do many things that are open to the public in general. People to come and participate and join in and get to learn. Because it’s not about having a set of things that you should be doing. It’s learning how we learnt, by being with each other and hanging out and doing things together. People really incorporate that into their lives sometimes here. I think that maybe people don’t realize the openness of the local First Nations communities and Indigenous communities in their area, most of us are.
CARRIE: Yeah, that’s true. I think most people don’t realize that there are things you can participate in. There are some things that you can’t, but many things you can. So it’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you. I think that’s probably good. I think we covered a lot of ground.
MEGAN: That was great, yeah.
CARRIE: Thank you Peter, for joining us. This was really awesome. MEGAN: Thanks Peter.
PETER: I chen kw’enmántumiyap ta nuyap siyáy’ ta an ha7lh skwéy’kweychet ti stsi7s. Very happy to have this good conversation with you my friends today.
MEGAN: Thank you. How do I say “thank you”?
CARRIE: Huy chexw a.
PETER: Huy chexw a.
MEGAN: Wey chew a?
PETER: [slower] Huy chexw a.
MEGAN: Huy chew ha.
MEGAN: I’m gonna try harder for the next time I talk to you Peter.
CARRIE: Okay and don’t be an asshole!
MEGAN: Do not be an asshole y’all.
CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.