Timmy Masso’s ardent and inspiring Nuu-chah-nulth language advocacy has earned him a $70,000 scholarship.
Masso is graduating from Ucluelet Secondary School this month and was recently named one of 20 recipients of the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership.
“It was truly shocking,” he told the Westerly News. “There have been so many amazing people that have helped me to get to where I am and I am truly thankful for everyone around me and thankful to my community and my family.”
The scholarship, which awards recipients with $70,000 in tuition and living expenses, was launched in 1995 and 520 students have seen their post-secondary goals boosted by roughly $26 million so far.
Applications for this year’s scholarships came in from across the country with 80 finalists advancing to an interview stage that Masso was nervously excited to be selected for.
“I got all prepared for it and I was sweating away and then I got there and they asked ‘Could you just tell us about how you got to where you are?’ And so, I just started talking and just like that, half-an-hour was gone,” he said. “I had so much fear over doing the interview and then the moment I went in there all the fear disappeared.”
Masso is a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and was recognized for his passionate work to revitalize the Nuu-chah-nulth language, a pursuit he says was already being championed by speakers, learners and advocates he was privileged to join.
“There have been so many wonderful people that are out there working on language and I had the honour of jumping in late with all these amazing Elders and knowledge keepers,” he said. “There have been so many advocates and Elders that have been working in language and preserving language so, when I talk about my successes, they’re not mine at all, they’re the communities’ and all these speakers as well.”
Masso recalls being inspired by the power of language after his older brother went through a brain operation and participated in a healing ceremony at the University of Victoria that included Elders singing a prayer in Coast Salish.
“I could see the strength that it gave to him and I was just shocked at the strength that he would get after he left the ceremony,” Masso said.
After returning home to Ucluelet, Masso became frustrated by the lack of Nuu-chah-nulth language learning and as a 13 year old Grade 8 student he made an impassioned speech at an Assembly of First Nations meeting in Victoria that received national attention and was a key rung on the ladder towards a Nuu-chah-nulth Language Proficiency Certificate program being launched at North Island College.
Masso was the program’s youngest participant in 2018 and he had already completed a two-year Indigenous Language Revitalization Diploma at UVic and was halfway through a Bachelor of Education degree when he entered Grade 12 at 17 years old.
“As I started to learn more and more Nuu-chah-nulth, I saw the importance of it with connections to land and place here, but now as I continue to learn, there’s so much deeper effects,” he said. “It connects to your health, your education, your understanding, your knowledge of everyone around you and it really all makes a part of your identity. I think that’s something that is really a tough thing right now because there’s so much confusion, especially in COVID, it’s hard to figure out who you are. When I learn my language, it connects me to understand my identity more and I can see that with so many other learners and speakers as well.”
He said he has felt empowered to see his community embrace the language, noting Ucluelet’s schools include Nuu-chah-nulth signage as does the Ucluelet Co-op.
“That is something that makes me feel so proud because you can walk into a public space and see your language…Our language is being shown now. It’s not being kept quiet. It is out in the open,” he said. “There’s also so much want for the language as well. You look around the community here in Ucluelet and there’s so much want and really the first step in bringing back language is having people want it.”
The TD Scholarship for Community Leadership will cover Masso’s tuition costs and living expenses at UVic where he plans to finish his Bachelors of Education degree before returning to the West Coast to teach the Nuu-chah-nulth language to local youth.