Teenage business owner aims to revitalize Blackfoot language
A young entrepreneur from the Siksika First Nation plans to use profits from his business to fund language lessons for Indigenous youth.
After three years of saving money and planning, 16-year-old Payne Many Guns launched Niitsitapi Co. in January. He sells his self-designed T-shirts and hoodies both online and at pop-up kiosks around Alberta.
But for Many Guns, the real purpose of Niitsitapi Co. is to revitalize the Blackfoot language.
“I thought, everyone wears clothes so why not start a clothing line? It’s something people can wear and it can promote the language,” Many Guns said on Friday.
A student at Strathmore High School, Many Guns estimates that less than five per cent of people he knows can speak their traditional language.
“We’re at risk of losing our language and it’s part of our identity.”
Thinking of ways to help himself and other youth reclaim their ancestral language, Many Guns decided to use profits from his clothing sales to hire an elder for weekly classes, reserved strictly for young people.
“My idea for the language class is to have it once a week and to have maybe about 10 to 20 youth. [We’ll] hire an elder and talk about the words we want to know and come back each week and slowly learn these words and learn more and more,” he said.
Many Guns says he knows of a number of elders who are willing to teach, and is working to connect with them.
It’s an initiative Many Guns’ mother is especially proud of.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to know my language and my culture… my generation [is] the first generation out of Indian residential schools. We’re the first generation that isn’t fluent in our language,” Alayna Many Guns said.
Once the language lessons are finalized, Many Guns says he’ll look to expand his line of products — hoping to develop stickers with Blackfoot words for everyday items. Customers can then label items around their home and absorb the language that way.
His ultimate dream is to open storefronts for Niitsitapi Co. in both Siksika and Calgary.
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