Leilani Sampson and Selena Howard were the guests of honor at the Coming of Age ceremony held for them in Tsaxana on March 19.
They were like princesses. The two young ladies who were being honoured in Tsaxana on March 19 were carried in a dugout canoe into the crowded Wahmeesh Hall. They were dressed entirely in white and wore cedar bark headdresses lovingly made by family members.
The Howard family paddle song was performed as the girls made their grand entrance. After they were seated the women showed their respect to the girls by performing a dance made especially for the aitstulthla, Coming of Age ceremony.
Their proud parents wanted to show the people how much the girls are loved, and they wanted to show the girls how far their family roots branch out.
Selena Howard is the daughter of Theresa Bob and Steve and Allison Howard. Leilani Sampson is the daughter of Sandra Howard. The girls are second cousins.
Host Steve Howard spoke extensively about how he is connected to many Nuu-chah-nulth families both near and far. Besides his large Mowachaht/Muchalaht family, he is also related to the Rush family of Uchucklesaht through his mother, Beulah. He also has direct roots to Ahousaht through his grandmother.
He thanked the Howards and his wife's family, the Sutherland/Haiyupis families, for always being there to support his family in times of need. Allison Howard is Selena's stepmother. She and Steve raise their blended family together.
The hosts started things off by taking care of their witwaak, or security, cloaking them in beautiful cream-colored blankets appliqued with black designs. Beulah gave away 19 vests to the singers while Allison gave 16 shawls to some of the dancers.
The Howard family performed their welcome song before dinner was served.
The dance floor was blessed using eagle down and the Jack family prayer song was sung, officially making it safe for the performers that would be using it that night.
Steve thanked the Jack family while Allison presented beautiful handmade shawls to a handful of women. The couple said they admired the women’s love of dancing and culture. They would often join the family to practice singing and dancing.
The girls sat on cedar benches made by their relatives. Their mothers, Sandra Howard and Theresa Bob, sat by their sides along with their grandparents Bill and Beulah Howard and grandmother Agnes Martin.
Four ha’wiih paid respect to the young ladies by washing their feet. This is done to show the people how the chiefs will humble themselves, stooping down to wash the feet of a young woman, in a show of reverence and respect.
Ha’wiih Eddy Jones, Norman George, Ben Jack Sr. and Simon Tom each took turns splashing cold water on the girls’ feet. They were followed by the girls’ mothers and grandmothers, who gently patted their feet dry.
Speaker Sam Johnson thanked the visiting ha’wiih on behalf of the hosts for coming to help with the ceremony.
The first to perform that evening were Ha’wilth Eddy Jones of Hesquiaht. Other ha’wiih and families followed, including Norman George, Larry Andrews, Dennis John, Simon Tom, Ben Jack Sr., Robert Watts, Tim Sutherland, Jack Johnson and Marge Amos.
They each showed their support to the hosts and their family connections to the girls through songs and dances. They each gave gifts to the host to show their approval of the ceremony.
Ahousaht elder Ray Samuel talked about the importance of the aitstulthla and how it shows that a girl has passed into womanhood, and how she is the bearer of new life.
Kyuquot elder Pat Nicolaye told the girls she was proud of them. She praised the Howards for doing such a good job in showing the girls just how special they are. In particular, she praised the men of the Howard family, saying fathers need to walk with their daughters and show them they care for them.
“It is very important to show them that respect, to teach them to grow up feeling respect and to prepare them for the future,” she advised.
Nicolaye said it is also important to show the people, through ceremonies like aitstulthla, that the children are loved and to send the message nobody should ever hurt them.
“Someday someone will come to ask for them (in marriage) and you must prepare them,” said Nicolaye.
Daisy Hanson thanked the hosts for inviting her family to the ceremony. She praised the hosts for their success in raising their blended family together. To her niece Allison, she said, “it takes a unique person to be in acceptance of a combined family and both of you have done that. I love what you do for your community. You’re a blessing,” said Hansen.
Throughout the evening the girls were introduced to extended family members. Toward the end of the party they were given names, marking their transition from childhood to that of young women.
The singing and dancing went on until 6 a.m., followed by more gift giving.