Dance regalia donated to Ditidaht School

By Denise Titian, October 28, 2011

Chief Councillor Jack Thompson speaks with students at Ditidaht Community School as he presents his gifts to the culture class.

Ditidaht — 

Students of Ditidaht Community School received a most welcome surprise from their Chief Councillor Jack Thompson at a recent school assembly.

After hearing that the school children had no dance regalia for their culture program, Thompson got to work, making dozens of paddles, spears and wooden sea serpents that the children could use as they learn their songs and dances.

Thompson and his family presented the regalia as a gift to the cultural class at a monthly school assembly held Oct. 26.

Members of the community are invited to attend monthly school assemblies. It allows them an opportunity to see what their children are learning and to applaud them in their successes.

Only seven years old, Ditidaht Community School has 51 registered students in grades K-12. Helping to preserve and enhance Ditidaht culture and language is one of its top priorities.

Culture teacher Debbie Mack welcomed the community in the Ditidaht language before allowing the students to perform a paddle song and dance.

Principal Bridgette Alexandra reminded the people that their children are being educated through a partnership between the students, teachers and community. She likened it to a three-legged stool, saying without the support of one, the stool would topple over.  

Guests saw a slide show of a recent outdoor education field trip the students attended, where they learned about finding their inner strengths and about teamwork.

Alexandra then called up children to receive certificates recognizing individual students for things such as making a major improvement in writing, to always showing respect to classmates, to being a great singer or dancer.

Proud parents, grandparents and other relatives clapped, cheering loudly as each child’s name was called.

Finally, Alexandra announced there would be a presentation. She told the crowd that language and culture is important at Ditidaht Community School, but the program did not have equipment for some of the dances.

Thompson said it was important to him that the children had what they needed for their cultural classes.

“All my life in our community I watched my elders teach us our language, the songs, dances so that it wouldn't die and be forgotten. Without these important things you lose your identity as Ditidaht,” he shared.

“I remember the exact songs and dances that our students do today are the ones that my grandparents taught me when I was younger. So I think that it is important that these teachings continue with our younger generation,” Thompson added.

Nona Thompson said her husband would sometimes spend 12 hours on a Saturday working on the pieces. “He’s been giving up his free time for what he believes in,” she told the audience.

Diverting attention from himself, Thompson said, “I want to acknowledge the teachers; you know how important language and culture is to our community.”

He called the staff dedicated to the work they do teaching children Ditidaht language and culture.

Thompson thanked those that helped him make the 45 carved pieces.

“Rod Fraser provided me with the artwork that was on the paddles. My wife and my daughter Wendy helped me with the paintings. And, of course, my nephew Cyril Edgar helped with the carvings of the serpents,” Thompson said.

The Thompson family presented the pieces to a tearful and very thankful Debbie Mack on behalf of her cultural class. The crowd responded with cheers and a standing ovation for their chief.

The school children thanked Thompson with a handmade thank you card.

Dorothy Shepherd of the cultural committee also thanked Thompson.

“This is not the first time Jack and his family has stepped up,” she told the audience. In the past Thompson donated drums when the cultural class needed it.

“Today is an awesome day for our students,” said Shepherd.

The students immediately demonstrated their gratitude to the Thompson family by making use of the donation in songs and dances, ending the assembly on a joyful note.

Elder Christine Edgar rose to publicly thank Chief Thompson, not only for the donation, but also for giving up his weekends to make the gifts. She invited the community to join her and the Ditidaht language group for their Tuesday evening potluck dinners; a grassroots effort to preserve the Ditidaht language.