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B.C. TikTok teacher says learning her traditional language saved her life

Williams Lake’s Danikka Murphy uses social media to teach Secwepemctsín language
Danikka Murphy stands in her classroom at École Nesika Elementary where she teaches Secwepemctsín to students. Nov. 2023. (Kim Kimberlin photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

For Secwepemctsín language and culture teacher Danikka Murphy, learning her traditional language changed the trajectory of her life.

“It’s what saved my life. It gave me purpose again,” said Murphy.

Murphy began teaching Secwepemctsín, the Indigenous language of the region, at École Nesika Elementary in Williams Lake three years ago, and recently, started posting Secwepemctsín language videos on TikTok as a way to give students (and others interested in learning Secwepemctsín) more resources.

Her TikTok channel, @tnekwe7, contains videos of her speaking Secwepemctsín. In one lesson, she provides basic greetings and in others, goes over the Secwepemctsín alphabet, plants and autumn-themed words.

What’s astounding is Murphy only started learning Secwepemctsín two years prior to her teaching.

Her uncle, Cody William, had just started teaching Secwepemctsín at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Williams Lake and encouraged Murphy to join his class.

“It just clicks,” she said, noting she only spoke English and a few words of Chilcotin growing up.

Her mother, Tsilhqot’in and a residential school survivor, and her father of European descent, Murphy grew up in Williams Lake and described being a “half-breed” as difficult, feeling lost for a long time. By the age of 10, she began drinking, which became scary really fast, she said.

When she was 14, she realized this wasn’t the life she wanted to live and committed to getting sober. She joined an Alcoholics Anonymous group — which she felt silly attending at first, claiming she was only attending for the many birthday cakes, but then realized she wasn’t alone. Today, she’s been sober for over 12 years. Of course, the journey wasn’t just that easy. She lost a lot of friends during the sobriety process, she said.

In 2013, she had her first son when she was 16 and began the juggle of parenting, completing high school and working part-time at Walmart, which turned full-time due to financial strain. Despite her “severe lack of confidence,” she graduated on time as valedictorian from Skyline Alternate School in 2014 while her son attended daycare during the day. She described her valedictorian speech as ridiculous.

“I couldn’t people back then. I couldn’t even do this, couldn’t even look up,” she said to the Tribune.

Her second son was born in 2015 and she described being a young mom as “isolating enough.” At this point, she was just surviving.

“But you know, we find fun in simple moments, right? You get creative.”

Her first daughter was born in 2017 at 33 weeks, sadly only surviving five hours. Only days later, her family evacuated up to Prince George to get away from the wildfires. Wrapped in grief, she stayed focused on her boys, turning “every little thing into an adventure.” Her oldest son, then four, was aware of his sister’s passing and also trying to cope.

“I wanted them to see that … your world can be totally burned to the ground, but as long as we have each other, we can do anything.”

During this time, she began learning Secwepemctsín and recalled her dad smiling while listening to her speak it — for he knew she had found something special. Her father passed away in 2019 just days before she aced one of her final exams. 

At this point, Murphy had already left Walmart and began working at the mill doing weekend cleanup. In 2020, right before the pandemic began, she was pregnant with her fourth child. She worked up until 30 weeks and then stopped, which, with the slower pace, brought on significant stress and panic surrounding her pregnancy. She reluctantly reached out to a counsellor.

“It’s the devil you know, or the devil you don’t know,” she laughed.

Thankfully, seeing a counsellor helped.

Her second daughter was born in 2020 and three years later, is a happy little girl who has a “bestie” at daycare. She affectionately calls her children her “wild bunch,” and continues to want more for them. Her kids also keep her grounded, she said.

For three days a week, Murphy works at Williams Lake First Nation as the Community Cultural Assistant and for the other two days, she’s teaching at Nesika.

For Murphy, she’s determined to instill confidence into her students, channelling the energy of the late Ella Gilbert who taught and inspired Murphy when she was a child attending Marie Sharpe.

“When I speak the language, I try and stand up straight. I speak all the Secwepemctsín and then I translate, depending on where I am,” Murphy said. “I want to see Secwepemctsín spoken everywhere comfortably.”

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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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