Emergency funding benefits cultural preservation

Vancouver Island, BC

This month First Nations across B.C. received funding to support the preservation of their distinct cultures, with the money coming from a ministry that specializes in emergencies.

On Friday, Jan. 19 British Columbia’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness announced approximately $580,000 for 22 projects, including several initiatives being launched by Nuu-chah-nulth nations.

Intended as cultural support in responding to emergencies, the grants come from the ministry’s Community Emergency and Preparedness Fund, which is being administered to the successful First Nations and local governments through the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

Among those approved are the Pacheedaht First Nation, which received $30,000 to improve emergency response efforts in Port Renfrew.

The Tseshaht was granted almost $21,000 for the development of a two-day training session for emergency response staff on the history of residential schools and “how to create culturally safe spaces in emergency reception centres,” stated the Ministry of Emergency Management. 

“This will help emergency and first responders to gain a deeper understanding of Tseshaht traditional and cultural teachings and how those should transfer into an Emergency Support Services (ESS) setting,” added the ministry in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' First Nations received $17,800 for its Salvaging Sacred Belongings project. This initiative is aimed to educate emergency management personnel on how to save important artifacts after a disaster strikes. A “cultural and sacred item salvage strike team” will be assembled and trained, according to the ministry.

Mindy Ogden, Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h's heritage place specialist, said precious belongings would include regalia, drums and masks.

“In the event of an emergency, we need locals who have these skills, as we are a very remote community,” stated Ogden in a press release. “We are looking forward to equipping more community members, including the youth, in the future.”

The Ditidaht First Nation received almost $30,000 for what the ministry calls “cultural exploration and record keeping”. This entails the restoration and remastering of recordings documenting songs and stories, much of which is in the Ditidaht dialect. A little-known collection of approximately 40 audio tapes currently holds this material, recordings that date back to the mid 1970s.

“It’s mostly audio recordings on cassette tapes. I have uncovered some real-to-reels as well,” said James Fothergill-Brown, Ditidaht’s emergency services coordinator. “Doing it sooner than later would be a good idea. It seems like the tapes have by and large been stored quite well.”

The intention of this work is for the recordings to be catalogued and digitized so they can be available to Ditidaht members. Fothergill-Brown said that the recordings are so obscure that even a language group that is active in preserving Ditidaht culture wasn’t aware that the tapes existed.

“The language group has been doing quite a bit of work to this end to try to preserve the culture,” he said. “They’re doing events as well, like dance practice, to try and keep the culture alive. This project is more meant to support their work.”

As part of this initiative in cultural preservation, the grant funding will also support monthly gatherings in the Ditidaht’s community on Nitinaht Lake. Each of these meetings are planned to showcase an elder, with periods of an open microphone allowing members to share stories or perform. It’s also an opportunity to share emergency planning with many people in the community, “as explicit emergency meetings tend to draw only a segment of membership”, according to the ministry.

“The intention of the monthly parties is to bring people together and provide a space where families, individuals will be comfortable once again sharing songs,” said James Fothergill-Brown. 

The first such event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 27, from 5 p.m. to midnight at the Ditidaht Community Hall. Arnold Shaw will be sharing stories, with training notices and an update from Ditidaht’s emergency services, as well as guest artist Nokturnal Funk.

The project also aims to record a new series of stories and songs from elders.

The importance of connecting younger generations with traditional ways was highlighted during a community gathering held in Nitinaht on April 25. 

At that event Esther Edgar reflected on the societal transformation over her lifetime, after she spent her childhood in a coastal village at Nitinaht Narrows. Her family moved to the current village at Nitinaht Lake when several tribes amalgamated in 1967.

“It hurts me that my grandchildren will never know what it was like how I grew up. The sense of community is getting lost. Technology is taking over,” she said. “It’s not their fault, it’s the way of the world. Technology, cell phones, iPads, tablets. I do my best when they come to my house. I sit them down and tell them how it was when I was their age.”

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