May 13 was an important day in School District 68 and at Ladysmith Secondary School.
It was the first time the school district hosted a Spuptitul, a Hul’qumi’num language competition.
The importance of the day and the event, which celebrates local First Nations language and culture, brought together about 100 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 from Ladysmith, Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley and also brought together all three chiefs from the school district’s First Nations.
Stz’uminus First Nation Chief John Elliott welcomed everyone to the Spuptitul and to Stz’uminus traditional territory and thanked everyone for coming.
“I think it’s so important to build language, language we fought to get back,” he said during the opening ceremonies.
This was the first time School District 68 (SD68) has hosted a Spuptitul, which has been taking place in School District 79 (SD79) for 10 years.
“I certainly have a long-standing interest and support for advancing aboriginal language in the public school system,” said SD68 superintendent Dave Hutchinson. “It’s absolutely critical.”
District Principal of Aboriginal Education Laura Tait was thrilled to see so many students taking part in the Spuptitul.
“Today is a huge source of pride for me, so I wanted to say thanks and express the pride I have in seeing people of all ages speaking our language, native and non-native,” she said.
The event opened with a parade of all the participants and drumming by Pleasant Valley Elementary School students. Along with Elliott, Snuneymuxw Chief John Wesley and Chief David Bob from the Snaw’naw’as First Nation were also there for the opening.
As part of the day’s programming, there was a series of basketball, soccer and lacrosse workshops with Vancouver Island University (VIU) and Nanaimo Timbermen athletes. Hul’qumi’num speakers taught phrases and words often used in each sport.
In the language competition, Shxixnu-tun Lelum finished first in the kindergarten to Grade 3 category, while Khowhemun Elementary won the Grade 4-7 category, Quamichan Middle School was first in Grade 8-10, and Ladysmith Secondary School won the Grade 11-12 category.
The Spuptitul, organized by the Aboriginal Sub Committee of the SD68 Multicultural and Race Relations Committee, is being hailed as a great success.
Trustee Bill Robinson says planning started about four months ago when he, Joan Brown and Mandy Jones thought they’d like to start doing Spuptituls in SD68. Their initial thought was that they would start small, with a competition for kindergarten to Grade 3, but after going to SD79 to learn about their experiences, they suggested doing a joint Spuptitul, and it became a K-12 event.
Robinson was thrilled to see everything come together.
“The fact that the three chiefs were there was extraordinary, having their support for the growth of the Hul’qumi’num language in our school district, not only the language, but the culture comes with it,” he said. “To see 100 kids being drummed in, carrying their school signs, it was pretty exciting to me. That was a first huge step to making a statement that we are continuing to work hard, and even harder, to grow the Hul’qumi’num language and culture in our school district.”
Robinson wants to give credit to the VIU soccer and basketball players and the Timbermen lacrosse players who participated in the Spuptitul and taught the students new skills.
Brown is very happy with how the day came together.
“We’re just overwhelmed with all the success and the amount of support,” she said. “It really speaks of how many people are supportive of Hul’qumi’num in our school system. It was just beyond words in terms of the level of success.”
Brown says they don’t know yet if they will host a Spuptitul in SD68 again next year, but they certainly would like to, and they will be meeting with School District 79 to work on next year’s event.
“It’s a milestone in terms of our strategy in terms of bringing the language to its place,” she said.