by Kayla Dix, Salish Kootenai College Indigenous Visionary Native Women’s Leadership Fellow, Kathie Maiers, Salish Kootenai College Indigenous Visionary Native Women’s Leadership Mentor

My love for the Salish language was fostered at a young age. Driving with my Sile (grandfather), he would point at things and teach me new Salish words, feeding my passion.

After my Sile passed on, my brother took on the role of teaching me the language. During this time, I became close with a few of our elders, a couple of which were fluent speakers. Having been taught the culture from my family, it was at this point that I started praying in the language, inter-weaving it with my culture. This had a profound impact on my life, making me feel connected with my Native community. This knowledge also empowered me, helping me to know who I am, where I came from, and the fact that no one could take this away from me.

I realized the language and culture were gifts that keep on giving.

I knew I needed to share this knowledge. With each year our elders were slowing passing on, taking these precious gifts with them. Having two daughters of my own, I knew that it was important to teach our children because language and culture gives them the tools they need to build a strong foundation and to succeed in life. That is what inspired me to become a teacher of the Salish language and culture.

The American Indian College Fund was gracious enough to give me the opportunity to become an Indigenous Visionaries Fellow. Through the Indigenous Visionaries Native Women’s Leadership scholarly connection webinars, my work with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Early Childhood Services Nest, and those I have learned from have given me access to Native women in leadership positions. Those relationships have encouraged and empowered me to go out into my own community and make a difference.

SKC Indigenous Visionaries Fellows Joni Augare Connelly, Kayla Dix, and Mentor Kathie Maiers.

SKC Indigenous Visionaries Fellows Joni Augare Connelly (left), Kayla Dix (center), and Mentor Kathie Maiers.

Early on in our Indigenous Visionaries project at Salish Kootenai College (SKC), I attended a Traditional Native Games training where I became certified to teach Native games. In the fall, I worked with Indigenous Visionary Fellow and classmate, Joni Connelly and Indigenous Visionary Mentor Kathie Maiers to organize and facilitate a Native games event for SKC Founders week.

SKC Indigenous Visionaries Kayla Dix and Linda Ferris present on dual language learners and brain development at the Celebrating Salish Language Conference in Spokane, Washington.

SKC Indigenous Visionaries Kayla Dix presents on dual language learners and brain development at the Celebrating Salish Language Conference in Spokane, Washington.

Seeing community members sharing laughs as they participated in the traditional games was an experience that I will not forget. It was humbling to be able to share this knowledge with others who may not have access to it otherwise.

In the spring, I attended the Celebrating Salish Language Conference in Spokane, Washington. I was able to help facilitate a workshop as part of my Indigenous Visionaries project by motivating others and sharing my personal language journey. The workshop focused on dual language learners and the positive effect dual language learning has on our children’s brain development.

It was an amazing experience to see fellow Native Americans light up when they learned that speaking our own indigenous language could really impact our people.

Being a Native woman leader is not easy, it is a responsibility. Being a role model for young Native woman is not easy, but it is so incredibly important. Both roles are also rewarding when you are passionate about what you are doing.

I am passionate about preserving the Salish language. As a Native woman and Native language speaker and teacher of the language, I am willing, able, and ready to take on the work and responsibility. I am grateful to the American Indian College Fund for helping me develop the leadership skills and confidence needed to carry out this important work that will have a positive impact on the future of Indian Country.