Inspiration ripples across the school district

By Debora Steel, May 25, 2011

Students from Ms Morris' Kindergarten/Grade 1 class at Wickaninnish Community School recite in the Nuu-chah-nulth language a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations prayer composed by Levi Martin.

Port Alberni — 

The children of School District 70 gathered at Alberni District Secondary School on May 19 for the 8th annual Aboriginal Spring Festival, which showcases aboriginal programming—language, curriculum and culture—and brings families together to celebrate identity and pride.

Student performances of dance, song and even a prayer recited in the Nuu-chah-nulth language by Wickaninnish Community School were featured during the evening event. Performances included Alberni Elementary doing the Nine Times Song.  8th Ave. School did the Eagle Song. A.W. Neil did a Victory Song. Maquinna school showed a video about learning the Nuu-chah-nulth language using puppets as teaching aids. Gill Elementary performed the Hupacasath Feast Song.

This year’s poster contest winner Carmen Holcombe was introduced. Her picture was of a whale decorated with West Coast First Nation designs.

On display in the school gym and lobby were art projects that had an aboriginal theme to them, including masks, drums and paintings that combined West Coast designs with the Eastern Woodland style.

The festival is used as a tool to share with the community what the children of SD70 are learning, said Eileen Haggard, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council education supervisor.

Each school contributes one project, be it a performance or display, and what happens is pure inspiration with all the schools seeing what the others are doing. Haggard describes it as a “cross-pollination” of ideas and attitudes.

Much has changed since that first festival eight years ago. For one thing, aboriginal programming in the district has increased. And there is now more participation of all the children in the district, not just the aboriginal children.

There’s also more participation from the staff, with the Nuu-chah-nulth education workers serving as point people rather than having to do all the work to prepare for the evening themselves, as they did in the early years.

Haggard said the onus is on all partners—students, staff, and parents—to create a space where all children can be successful, and by sharing aboriginal culture and values means the school district is moving in the right direction toward that goal.

“I’m so proud of all the students and staff,” said Haggard. “It gives me great pride to work with such a fantastic team.”

The evening was dedicated to the memory of the late Edward Tat Tatoosh—linguist, educator, and musician—who gave freely of his time whenever he was asked by the school district.

Cam Pinkerton, SD70 Superintendent who is also responsible for Aboriginal programming, spent time with Tat each Friday to learn the Nuu-chah-nulth language.

Tatoosh, Pinkerton said, was a kind, compassionate, caring man with a centred, balanced understanding of Nuu-chah-nulth ways. Tat had a rare gift, to be able to hold the attention of an audience, whether he was telling a story or a joke or playing the Blues.

Tat spent 50 years as a musician, and during the short video tribute to Tatoosh shown that night, some of the tracks from his CDs were played.

He left a simple message as a legacy, said Pinkerton. “Look after and take care of people. Don’t be selfish.”

During the video, student Nicole Watts described the impact Tatoosh had on her life. He was an uncle to her, but she called him grandpa, and he was with her through all the stages of her education, beginning at Haahuupayak elementary school through high school and Vast alternative school.

Nuu-chah-nulth Education Worker Diane Gallic said Tat always taught in a gentle and kind way.

Pinkerton said he was a wonderful resource to the school district, and he is dearly missed.

A presentation of a certificate was made to Tatoosh’s grand daughter and sister.