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G̱wa’yasda̱ms Language & Culture Camp

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Camps

Initially hosting language and culture camps in Hada (Bond Sound), we decided to take the camp into the village of G̱wa’yasda̱ms (Gilford Island) for a week in July. This camp was special for those attending but especially for the community, having the elders and youth bring more life into the village sure made hearts happy.

Throughout the week the group had an opportunity to immerse themselves in our rich traditions while getting to sit and listen to the elders’ stories and knowledge they shared. Our traditional songs, dances, and language filled the air in the Gukwdzi, creating a powerful sense of unity. Join us on a virtual journey of exploring what this this camp had to offer and the profound impact these camps have on our people: 

The week kicked off welcoming our youth and elders into the village where our staff and community members gathered on the dock welcoming the guests to one of our traditional welcoming songs. As the offloading began you could see the excitement in the air for what the week was about to bring everyone. 

After getting everyone settled into the community, it was very important to begin the week forging connections and getting to know one another. We gathered in our Gukwdzi, circling around the fire where everyone had the opportunity to introduce themselves in Kwak’wala. 

It’s always encouraged to learn how to introduce ourselves in Kwak’wala, giving our bak̕wa̱m name, sharing where we come from, and who our family is. Knowing who we are and where our roots stem from gives us a sense of belonging, pride, and a deeper appreciation for our cultural identity. By sharing our stories, we not only learn about one another but also foster stronger connections within our communities. 

Throughout the week the group engaged in activities that immersed them in the essence of our culture and traditions. We harvested crab and prawn traps and learned how to cut fish and place them on sticks (t̓łubukw) to bbq around the fire in our Gukwdzi. For our people, learning how to hunt or harvest and then the process of preparing is not only a skill set, but a way of life that has been passed down through generations. Our elders spoke on the importance of teaching the younger generation our traditional practices and how crucial it is, as it allows them to connect with our ancestral roots and understand the significance of living off the land. 

Brittley, our FNHA rep at language and culture camps, spoke during her traditional medicine walk on how it’s more than harvesting, it is instilling a deep sense of gratitude for what the land provides. Giving thanks and praying for what we harvest is a fundamental aspect of our culture, as it fosters a harmonious relationship with nature. By teaching the value of taking only what we need, we emphasize the importance of sustainability and conservation. Our people believe that when we care for the land, it reciprocates by taking care of us, ensuring a bountiful future for generations to come.  

During the enlightening walk around the village, Brittley shared her knowledge of the traditional medicines that surrounded us such as red clover, fireweed, mint, stinging nettle, broad leaf plantain, dandelion, and others. She passionately spoke about the incredible benefits that each medicine offers and emphasized the importance of incorporating them into our daily lives for preventative care, rather than solely relying on them when we fall ill.  

Over the week we had the opportunity to connect with the elders where we got to sit and listen to their stories and teachings, something that is of the utmost importance for the preservation and continuation of our language and cultural heritage. Our elders are the keepers of our traditions, wisdom, and ancestral knowledge, so getting to spend time with them and listen to what they had to share with us was so important so we can keep the momentum going in preserving our language and traditions. 

We had the privilege of hearing Ma̱nłida’as, Maxine Matlipi share her wisdom and knowledge about our Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw regalia while getting to see some of her beautiful apron work in person. Maxine is known for her incredible regalia work but also one of the key organizers that work the back room during potlatches. She touched on some of the history of where the inspiration of our regalia came from, about the different types of buttons we use, and the teachings about only using your family crests and colors you have rights to. She also spoke on the importance of representing ourselves in a good way to uplift our families and each other in our Gukwdzi, some vital teachings instilled in our people to carry for generations to come. 

We heard from G̱usdidza̱s, Hank Nelson, “an elder in training he says”, speak about how valuable our salmon are to us and the pressing need to enhance our salmon population at our Nimpkish River. Hank enlightened us about the alarming statistics, revealing that a significant portion of our salmon, ranging from 22-85% is consumed by predators before they even reach the saltwater. Furthermore, he spoke on the adverse effects of fish farms and logging that have taken a toll on our salmon stocks. Hank expressed his hope that more of our people would actively participate in the efforts to enhance our salmon stocks by working at the hatchery now that he has retired after 43 years. 

Demonstrating his wisdom, Hank emphasized the numerous health benefits of salmon consumption and shared his secret to maintaining strength and vitality from drinking fish oil straight from the jar. He shed light on our peoples historical access to fishing boats, which were originally provided to fish for salmon and feed the army during WW2. Hank’s poignant words touched on the future challenges of food shortages and soaring prices, underscoring the significance of enhancing our salmon stocks to sustain our traditional way of life, rooted in living off the land. 

Each day we embarked on different adventures and learning opportunities, every day we made it a habit to move our bodies and connect with our language. Pewi led us through exercises to move our body using our kwak’wala language which not only strengthened our physical well-being but also deepened our connection to our cultural roots through the language. 

Surrounded by the breathtaking views of the village out on the helicopter pad, Gloria led us through a yoga session in kwak’wala. This experience felt so grounding hearing the birds whistling, the bee’s buzzing, the wind blowing, and the ocean splashing. This integration of language into our everyday practices fosters a strong connection to our heritage and enhances our overall well-being. 

Our week in G̱wa’yasda̱ms for the language and culture camp was an unforgettable journey of self discovery, cultural immersion, and intergenerational connection. One of the key aspects of the camp was the creation of a safe learning space. It can be intimidating to learn our language, songs and dances, or anything new at that, but when we encourage a judge-free environment, recognizing that the near erasure of our language and culture resulted from colonization, we learn to embrace our heritage without reservation. It was beautiful to see everyone at the log singing, drumming or getting out on the dance floor open to learning. 

As we continue to revitalize our kwak’wala language and celebrate our traditions, we are reminded of the profound impact this camp has on our community. We left this camp feeling inspired, motivated and empowered to keep learning, holding onto the knowledge shared and ready to pass down for the betterment of our communities and future generations.




September 2023