11-year-old from Victoria publishes Kwakʼwala language book following UNESCO competition win

An 11-year-old from Victoria is the winner of an international competition organized by UNESCO, which looked for stories about language preservation written by Indigenous children.

Adelyn Sophie Newman-Ting’s story Finding The Language is about two friends searching for terms in the the Kwakʼwala language. Newman-Ting is Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish, as well as English, Irish and Scottish on her father’s side. 

“[The Kwakʼwala language] is his culture and therefore part of my culture and we can’t speak it because it got taken away in residential schools,” said Newman-Ting.

Residential schools were in place across Canada from the 17th century until the late 1990s. They were part of an assimilation effort imposed on Indigenous peoples to destroy their cultures and suppress their languages.

In Newman-Ting’s story, two children meet and talk to the Raven and Wolf, to figure out how to save the environment and the Kwakʼwala language. They learn different words by speaking to elders who they encounter.

Adelyn’s dad, Kwakwak’awakw artist Carey Newman, says he was originally an ambassador for UNESCO’s Voices of Future Generations project. He stepped down after Adelyn expressed interest in participating in the competition. 

In Finding the Language, two children meet and talk to the Raven and Wolf, to figure out how to save the environment and the Kwakʼwala language. They learn different words by speaking to elders who they meet. (Voices of Future Generations)

“Honestly the first time I read the first little bit, I got kind of emotional. I still do. Because it’s such a pure reality to [the fact] she doesn’t have the language,” said Newman. 

Newman’s father had attended residential schools and had the Kwakʼwala language taken away from him, and could not pass it down to Carey.

“I had come to terms with that. But to think of that also extending through to her generation … it’s an emotional thing. Because it is the persistence of residential school legacy, at least in the case of our family,” he said.

Still, working as Adelyn’s “research assistant” during the writing process was a way of connecting back to the Kwakʼwala language for Newman.

He’s proud of the outcome. 

“I finally became a published co-author in my 40s, so she’s way, way ahead of me,” he said, laughing.

For Adelyn, the book represents a chance to celebrate a special part of her identity.

“It’s not a good thing to try to make everybody the same and we shouldn’t try to banish what makes everybody different and special. We should try to celebrate it: celebrate different languages and different people who speak different languages,” she said.

Finding The Language is now published and available for purchase on Amazon. 

All Points West8:33Adelyn Newman-Ting, 11, is now published author after winning UNESCO competition to raise awareness about language preservation

Adelyn Newman-Ting, 11, submitted her story, Finding the Language, and won a UNESCO competition for raising awareness about the preservation of languages. She spoke with Robyn Burns about publishing her story as a book. 8:33

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