By Michele Seymour, Colville Tribal Member, Colville Tribes, nslxcin Language Instructor

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My nslxcin name is mx̌ʷal̓, and my English name is Michele Seymour. I am 33 years old and am a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. My parents are Frank and Loni Seymour. My paternal grandparents are Jim and Shirley Seymour, they were from Inchelium, Washington. My maternal grandparents are Eddie and Mary Ann Palmanteer and Ginger Oppenheimer. All of my grandparents have passed on, except my grandma Mary Ann. I grew up in Inchelium and Omak on the Colville Indian Reservation. I am not a high school graduate. I received my GED in 2006. I have had a common experience like lots of the kids growing up in a border town of an Indian reservation. As early as 12 years old and in sixth grade, I began to experience being stereotyped by the white people in town. As the years went on, it seemed to intensify, and for no other reason than that I was Indian. My school basketball experience was an epic failure on the part of the school district and the coaches for every grade level I played. Basketball is a part of my heart, I’ve been playing since I was about 6 or 7 years old. It got even thicker when I got my license to drive at 16 years old. At this time, local police had their eyes out for me as well. I did not even have a criminal record. I was never suspended from school at this point yet either. I did not drink alcohol, and for the most part I was a pretty responsible teenager. My mom never really took me serious back then when I would tell her police were harassing me. One day though, she had got to see it first-hand while she used my car for the day. The harassment by police happened all through the rest of my high school years. They never were able to get me for anything, as much as I know they wish they could have. At the time, I didn’t realize nor did I really feel the hurt in my heart for all that was happening in my life. I began drinking when I was 18 years old. All the hurt was about to turn into complete and total anger and then into hate. Drinking soon became an obsession. I was an everyday bottle of vodka drinker less than a few months after I began drinking. Once alcohol became that strong of a force in my life, I lost most of the friends I had grown up with and gained new friends. Drugs had also crashed into my life like an ocean wave taking me even further away from what I knew. Life was all about alcohol and drugs. I blew through all of my money I had gotten when I turned 18 for being an enrolled member of the Colville Tribes. With nothing left to show for it, but an addiction. I have been in the worst places this reservation has to offer and with the types of people you wouldn’t want your kids to hang out with, I became one of those people. I was also in an extremely dysfunctional relationship, lots of insecurity and violence. I finally started building a criminal record in Okanogan County and Tribal court. Any criminal charge or conviction against me, happened while I was intoxicated. After my third DUI, I was court ordered into a women’s treatment facility over in western Washington. It was “change your life, or go to jail” time. I was afraid to put a noose around my neck and give the other end to the county, that’s how my public defender put it, because I had already a few failed attempts at sobering up. But I hated jail more than I loved the mess my life had become. So, to me the choice was an obvious one. I chose to roll the dice. I completed treatment and came home. The first 22 months of my sobriety was, to me, no better than my life in active addiction. I was miserable. I was empty. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself.

I give this snapshot of my life before language; not because I feel like a victim, but because throughout my life there has always been something missing and I’ve always filled it with this or that. Sometimes those things were good and sometimes they were bad things. But one day I walked into the Colville Tribes Language Preservation Program and asked if they would take me as a trainee through the Tribes Employment and Training program. They agreed and I began working here June of 2009 for the summer. I was officially hired into the Language Program in the fall of that year. I’ve learned lots of language and history since then. But what I’ve been given on top of all that is a new way of life. I’ve been given more than just words and translations. Language changed my life. It has filled that emptiness I’ve always carried within my heart that had previously been filled with hurt, anger, hate, alcohol, and drugs. It has given me a connection to Creator, the land, and the people. I feel held accountable by those things. I can no longer be so selfish and so arrogant because I know I am a small part of a much larger picture. I am not the center of everything. I am a small piece that fits where I am supposed to, and I need to live my life in a good way and teach what I have been blessed to be given. Language is power for many reasons, but it has a healing power that is often overlooked because our people have been taught to fear it. In some ways I still struggle with that fear. But, so far, I have 11 years of sobriety, and I don’t know if I would still be here had I not been connected to Creator through our language and culture.

If you or someone in your community would like to share how language has changed your life, email your story to cree@sisterskyinc.com.