BC Elders’ Gathering Quw’utsun Queen has Hupacasath roots

Denise Titian, July 13, 2018

Juanita and her husband Ed were selected by their fellow elders to be king and queen of the 42nd Annual B.C. Elders Gathering hosted by Cowichan Tribes. Their duties include being welcoming ambassadors to the Cowichan Valley.

Duncan, BC — 

It has been 62 years since a young Hupacasath bride, Juanita Watts, left her childhood home in Port Alberni to begin married life with her Quw’utsun Tribes husband, Ed Elliott. While she’s had a long and happy marriage, she says if there’s anything she really misses, it’s hearing her Nuu-chah-nulth language.

“Hardly anyone speaks the language anymore and I’m trying to convince schools to teach it,” she said.

Juanita and her husband Ed were selected by their fellow elders to be king and queen of the 42nd Annual B.C. Elders Gathering hosted by Cowichan Tribes. Their duties include being welcoming ambassadors to the Cowichan Valley.

During a break at the BCEG, Juanita spoke with Ha-Shilth-Sa about her love of language.

“It doesn’t have to be Indigenous languages, it could be anything; I just love learning it,” she said.

The daughter of Ha’wilth Adam Watts and Nessie (Lauder), Juanita didn’t lack for family while growing up in the Alberni Valley. But after her move to the Cowichan Valley, her visits to where she grew up became less and less as her own family grew.

“I still have cousins that I like to visit, but now I come to Port Alberni to visit Rainbow Gardens,” said Elliott. Longing to hear people speak the Nuu-chah-nulth language, Elliott began visiting the seniors’ rest home, which houses several First Nations’ elders.

“I started visiting there just to hear our language and I would talk to people like Nellie Dennis,” she shared. But over time she noticed that later generations of Nuu-chah-nulth elders at Rainbow Gardens rarely speak the language. Perhaps they are no longer fluent or maybe they have no one to talk to that would understand the language.

Juanita says she still goes to Rainbow Gardens to visit the seniors she knows. She will check the names of the ones that are there and pop in for surprise visits.

Juanita believes that more people would be interested in learning the language if the words were spelled in a more familiar way. “A sure way to get people learning is to spell it phonetically – people would be more interested, I think,” she shared.

Juanita and Ed are both learning the Quw’utsun language together; it’s something they love doing,he said.

They incorporated their language into their BCEG welcoming message: “Aah siiem’ Sul’hweenstst, siiem siiye’yutst, siiem’ s-stslh hwulmuhw tst. Huy ch q’u kwus ni’hwtulqut, tu stl’eshuns tu Quw’utsun – Our dear elders, dear friends, dear relatives. Thank you for answering the invitation to come to Cowichan Territory,” as stated in the BCEG brochure.

Of the BCEG theme, ‘I tst’o’hwun’l – We are still here’ the event document said it meant to inspire a sense of individual and collective belonging. “Many of the elders in our communities have endured a legacy of hurt and sorrow. We are still here and we are here to unite in our strength, resilience and courage,” said the BCEG.

Ed and Juanita Elliott have two grown children and are happily retired in their Cowichan Valley home