Vance Home Gun was inspired to become fluent in the Salish language when he was 11 years old and was taken to a language camp by his aunt. Now 19 and a senior in high school, Home Gun, who lives in Arlee, Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, has been working with tribal departments, organizations and youth groups for the last six years to help preserve the Salish language. He teaches language classes at high schools with his organization Yoyoot Skwkwimlt, or Strong Young People.
Home Gun was named a 2013 Champion of Change by the Center for Native American Youth for his work preserving the Salish language.
How did you first get started with preserving your language?
My family, which is half Salish and half Blackfeet, has always been the type of Indian people who were raised in traditional homes (the old Indian way so to speak). Now that I am older, I look back and realize how blessed and fortunate I was to come from such a strong and knowledgeable family.
As time went on, I noticed that our identity as Native people was going down the drain, and language was basically the first to begin the horrible journey.
What is something the average citizen may not know about your area of expertise?
My area of expertise is knowing my language. It’s one gigantic jigsaw puzzle that reveals clues one step at a time. This is something very few people understand, the work I promote is simple, help my people decode the clues to the puzzle.
What is your secret to success?
My secret is simple—listen to mom and dad. Trust and believe in their wisdom. When you want to do right they’ll tell you how to do it. And in general listen to your elders. This is a key to success, put the words to action and keep the car moving. This is the secret to my path.
How have your efforts helped your Native community?
Through my efforts and by working with awesome positive people who share a similar vision, there has been great change in our communities. I have been a firsthand witness to see the faces glow when an Indian person can say just a few sentences in the language. Or when it’s time to hunt and they can take care of their kill the right way. By you teaching them these skills, they feel much more complete. Especially when they go out further into the community, and want to share the newly developed skills with others. Only then do I really feel like I’m making a difference.
Who has been your biggest influence?
There are so many great people in my life, but some of the people who helped me take the first steps are my mom and dad. They truly gave me the best possible life anybody could ask for, and were always there when I needed them. A further person in my life is my great grandpa, Earl OldPerson, who has been the Chief of the Blackfeet nation since the 1950s. He is a strong and courageous leader for Indian people, he takes action and makes positive change. Finally, a lady who has been my backbone since I could remember… my great aunt Sophie, who taught me how important it was to save our identity as Native people. These people showed me brighter things in life… this is how I keep moving.
What would you like to share with readers?
I would like to tell my fellow Indian people that times may get hard and sometimes we feel like giving up, but know the Creator is always with us no matter what, and he wants the best for us. We just need to learn to put trust in him so that he is able to work in our day-to-day lives. And you as an individual can make positive changes with yourself and for others. And keep your culture alive; it’s the foundation of who you were born to be.
What is your life’s dream?
My life dream has always been to be well-known for being a good person who wants to put words into action by helping others.