‘It’s always been a part of me’: Excitement and pride stirs as Kyuquot hosts youth cultural gathering  | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

‘It’s always been a part of me’: Excitement and pride stirs as Kyuquot hosts youth cultural gathering 

Kyuquot, BC

In mid-May the remote community of Kyuquot welcomed students from all over School District 84 and beyond for a youth cultural sharing event. Guests from throughout Nuu-chah-nulth territory gathered in Kyuquot Elementary Secondary School’s gymnasium, and with smiles drawn across many faces, they eagerly awaited the students' performances.

Students from KESS, the host school, Gold River Secondary School (GRSS), Ray Watkins Elementary, Captain Meares Elementary, Zeballos Elementary, K’ak’ot’lats’i School of Quatsino First Nation and T̓łisa̱lagi’lakw School of ‘Nagmis First Nation each took to the floor sharing songs and dances.

But first, KESS opened the event by cleansing the floor with the cedar dance.

For Grayson Joseph, a Grade 10 student at KESS, this is the first cultural sharing event she’s participated in with KESS.

“I love it,” said Joseph. “It’s exciting getting to learn how to lead and be a part of it.” 

“I've done dances growing up,” said Joseph, who shared that the cedar brushing dance is from her family. “This is my first time actually participating [the] majority of the time.”

“It’s always been a part of me,” she added.

Of the many guests who traveled to the remote community of Kyuquot for the day's festivities, Joseph’s family from Port Alberni was in attendance.

“I'm very happy to see them watch everything I've done so far since I moved here,” said Joseph.

KESS students practiced every day to prepare for the cultural sharing event. Joseph shared that in the evenings the elders would attend to correct the youth.

“They can teach us and show us how it's supposed to go,” said Joseph. “We've all learned a lot since the beginning of practices.”

Joseph said one of the most significant things she’s learned from the elders is that it's okay to be shy.

“Because it's our culture and we're here to carry it on,” she said. “And just be out there, dance as if it's just you in the room.”

“I love how we can all focus when we’re dancing, and then as soon as we get the chance to, we can be excited and happy,” said Joseph, noting that despite how shy everyone can get, they “step it up and do our dances.”

Brandon Smith, who has spent the last few years working with KESS students teaching them how to be leaders for their culture. Smith has also noticed the confidence growing in the students.

“I've noticed…their confidence level going up and showing that they're proud to be who they are,” said Smith. “It just makes me proud, going from, really, no voice, to raise the roof off.”

Smith has been working with the students in the drumming circle on how to use their voice, be respectful, listen for the signals of each song, how to lead solo parts and the history of composing songs.

“They needed a role model,” said Daisy Hanson, a Nuu-chah-nulth education worker at KESS, of Smith. “A male figure to be in that circle.”

Hanson, who had previously taught Smith when he was a student at the school, prioritizes passing along her knowledge of culture and language.

“We call it haahuup, in Kyuquot,” said Hanson. “It’s about teaching them good teachings and it comes from the heart.”

“It’s very deep and it's very sincere,” said Hanson, who passes down everything she can, as she remembers the words of her mother’s father, Hippolite Ignace. “‘When you learn things, my dear,’ he said, ‘you pass it down, you don't hold on to it. You're taught things so that you can teach somebody else’.”

Hanson noticed past students in the audience who were singing the songs performed during the event.

“To see that they still remember it, they're still carrying it and they're still singing it,” said Hanson. “That really completes my heart.”

All of the songs performed by KESS, shared Hanson, were composed by her. The cedar dance, with the help of Waakiitaam, Irene Hanson and Shawn Hanson, and the eagle dance with the help of Waakiitaam and Russel Hanson.

Among the songs, Joseph’s favorite is the eagle dance.

“[It] took a lot in me to get used to it so, a lot of hard work,” admitted Joseph, who is one of the eagles in the dance.

During the eagle dance some of Hanson’s students surprised her, taking to the floor joining the lead dancers. There was not a dry eye for Jennifer Hanson, director of education for Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/ Che:k’tles7et’h’ and Daisy Hanson as they witnessed the students perform.

“When I go they're going to have something to sing, when I'm gone the school will have songs,” said Daisy. “That's what I want to leave behind for them.”

“Seeing the younger ones excited to watch the older ones out there, you can see them dancing in the back and they're practicing so they can do it when they're older,” said Joseph. “I like that we can carry it on.

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