Stories are meant to be transformative. But some more than others. For a class at Ladysmith Secondary School, first writing, then having their stories translated into their own language proved transformative at many levels.
For Brittany Elliott, hearing her account of a family get together and outing wasn’t hard to write. “It just flowed right out of me,” she said.
Sharing it was something special. “It was very touching,” she said, after Together at the Gym was presented to the class. “We’re all close,” she said of her family. “We spend a lot of time together, so to be able to tell other people about what family means is really good.”
What was really, really good though, was seeing and hearing her account translated into the Hul’q’umi’num’ language of her ancestors. “It was really nice hearing them translate it. It was really special,” she said.
Brittany was one of 13 students in the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Class at Ladysmith Secondary school, who participated in a project of the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Collective.
Funded by the First People’s Cultural Council, Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District, Simon Fraser University and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the project brought together the students and Hul’q’umi’num’ linguists Donna Gerdts, Thomas Jones, Ruby Peters and Delores Louie.
The tales were translated into Hul’q’umi’num’, recorded, printed along with translations into a booklet titled s’aa’lh shtutul’na’mut (Through our eyes), and put into slide and sound presentations.
On June 19, with Gerdts at the projector, they were presented to the class. “It was really fun,” Elliott said. “It was great.” Asked if she is fluent in Hul’q’umi’num’ she said not yet, but that the project was a step along the way.
“I’m still working on learning our language,” she said. “There’s still a lot to learn, but we’ll be back here again next year.”
The reawakening of an ancient language in young minds is what the project aims for. But it’s a first step in a far more ambitious plan Nanaimo-Ladysmith School Board Trustee Bill Robinson said.
“To me this is one more step toward the time, hopefully in two years, where we will have Hul’q’umi’num’ Immersion programs – not just French Immersion, but Hul’q’umi’num’ – and that is going to be such a gift to this community.”
He congratulated Ladysmith Secondary School Principal Steve Thomson for learning Hul’q’umi’num’. “That is a huge thing that Steve is contributing, to start learning the language with (teacher) Mandy (Jones),” Robinson said.
“It’s an extraordinary role model, not only for the students in this school, but for principals, vice-principals, and teachers and trustees and senior management.”
Delores Louie contrasted the celebration of Hul’q’umi’num’ taking place that afternoon in LSS with the treatment she received as a child when she tried to speak her own language.
“There’s a real need for you to hang on to that,” she said of their knowledge and use of Hul’q’umi’num’ “Hold on to it. I always think of what happened to me when I was in school, how they punished me, how they used a ruler on me and put me in front of the whole school and spanked me to convince me not to talk in Hul’q’umi’num’ anymore.”
Thomas Jones said the project is something the students will take with them into the future. “You think of what you have in front of you, the book, the video. And as you think of your own nieces and nephews, and as you grow older your children, they’re going to look back on these stories and they’re going to think, ‘Wow, I’ve got something now I can go on.’ Because when we were kids nothing like this existed.”