New Fire

Reclaiming his indigenous name: Khelsilem's story

In some indigenous communities coming of age coincides with receiving a new name. When you do, the question becomes, what do you do with it?
Khelsilem is an educator and community organizer living in Vancouver, BC. (Corrina Keeling)

In some indigenous communities coming of age coincides with receiving a new name. When you do, the question becomes, what do you do with it?

Khelsilem was born Dustin Rivers, a nod to Dustin Hoffman after his role in Little Big Man, he says.

A few years ago, his grandmother agreed that 'Dustin' was ready to receive his ancestral names.

"To carry one name is considered a huge honour, to carry more than one name is an even bigger honour." - Khelsilem

He received two. And then he was faced with the dilemma of which name to use publicly, if at all.

'Rebranding' himself as Khelsilem was based on where that particular name comes from.

"Khelsilem comes from a family that did a lot of work that was very public - canoe building and carving," he said.

"These are things that are done in a private sense but then shared with the world afterwards."

As he was getting ready to leave the name Dustin behind, a friend offered some advice, telling Khelsilem that identifying by his indigenous name would become an opportunity to practice patience.

"It's very interesting when I introduce myself because I never know what a person's reaction is going to be," Khelsilem said.

"Some people just kind of tilt their head and give me a look, and it kind of befuddles them a little bit."

Khelsilem is a young educator and community organizer - he's both Squamish and Kwakwaka'wakw - living in Vancouver, BC. You can read about his language revitalization work here.

To hear his story, click the 'listen' button above.