Brandon Manson was among the more than 100 Nuu-chah-nulth youth who gathered in Nanoose Bay June 16. (Denise Titian photos)
More 100 young Nuu-chah-nulth-aht, ranging in ages from 12 to 18, arrived at Nanoose Bay Pentecostal Camp June 16 for a weekend of building bonds and sharing cultural teachings.
Stan Matthew, NTC Teechuktl CHS Training Coordinator, led the planning of the NTC Youth Gathering. He pointed out that there was a whole team at Quu’asa and Teechuktl that worked together on the gathering. He said the idea for the youth gathering came from the NTC Directors about two years ago.
The theme for this year’s youth conference came from Quu’asa Senior Wellness Worker Joe Tom. Using your tools is a theme that organizers hoped to help the young know that that they can look within themselves for the answers that they need.
The idea is to encourage kids to use the tools they have within them and around them.
“We will demonstrate through speakers and elders how they can achieve this,” Matthews said. “We brought in speakers like Shae Dioron, a Tseshaht business woman, who shared her personal story of how she overcame tremendous roadblocks to become a successful business owner,” said Matthew.
“Her story is highly personal but she had tools that she used,” he continued.
Over the three days youth had the opportunity to hear teachings from elders, watch live entertainment, learn healthy new skills like yoga and take part in fun activities, crafts and sport.
This is the second annual NTC Youth Gathering organized by the NTC Quu’asa and Teechuktl staff. In 2016 the gathering was held in Nanaimo, where everyone booked hotels. This year participants could stay on site in the beach cabins.
The campground also offers space for outdoor activities like a basketball court and playground equipment. Indoor activities included a crafting space and a gathering space where people could listen to presentations.
It was clear that great progress is being made in the passing of songs, language and culture down to younger generations. When invited to join in the singing of the Nuu-chah-nulth song a large number of young people entered the singer’s circle with no hesitation. They sang loud and proud as youngster Neve Watts assisted the lead singer, Trevor Little.
Joe Tom, Senior Wellness Worker at Quu’asa, welcomed the youth and shared some of the teachings he learned from his elders.
“My gramma used to say each of you are very precious children, precious human beings,” he told them. He added that they are also loved, not only by their families but also by the chaperones and staff that were there for them.
Tom went on to talk about bullying.
“We, as residential school survivors, know what it is to be bullied and ridiculed,” he shared. He told them that they can overcome the effects of bullying by using the tools they have within themselves – the teachings of their parents and grandparents. “We are still here and we overcame the legacy of the residential school with the teachings of our ancestors,” Tom said.
He advised them to speak well with each other.
“Use your eyes to see how beautiful it is when everyone is happy. When someone is in pain, go there to support them. We are all human beings and we are all very precious,” said Tom.
Cultural Education teacher and guest speaker Trevor Little also spoke on bullying. As a school staff member he sees all types.
“Bullying may be about weight, teeth, hair or that your clothes or shoes are not brand name,” he said.
“It’s so hard to fit in; you gotta walk, talk and sit a certain way and every one of us has something we struggle with – our insecurities. You all want to be safe and you don’t want to be laughed at,” said Little.
He noted that when we’re with someone like our grandmothers we’re different than when we’re sitting with our friends. He told the youth that they are in a safe place and he hoped that they would feel safe enough to be who they really are. “It takes courage to treat people nice,” he told them.
After a short break the young people were given their choice of activities. They could stay and listen to elder speakers, they could make crafts or they could play on the equipment outdoors.
Willie George and Ruby Samuel led a mini basketball tournament that was popular with the athletes.
Elder guest speakers included Wally Samuel and his wife, Donna. Wally talked about his great grandmother, who he said was the first “half breed” in Ahousaht.
“They couldn’t even live in the village because her mother was married to a mamulthni,” he said. Times have changed since then.
Samuel said he was raised to be responsible, hardworking and reliable. His family had to move to town for work. He remembered being made fun of for his accent.
“It not right to make fun of anyone because they’re trying their best,” he said.
He went on to talk about the importance of knowing where one is from and stated that Indian band registration and rights is a creation of Indian Affairs and is not part of Nuu-chah-nulth culture.
Samuel is from Ahousaht on his father’s side; his mother was from Kyuquot.
“I am invited to Kyuquot meetings, not as a registered member but because my mother was from there; that’s culture – knowing where you are from,” he said.
Donna Samuel talked about her cultural integration into her husband’s nation. She is from a nation in northern British Columbia and met Wally in residential school. While there are many similarities in each of their cultures, there are some big differences. “I went to dance practices and potlatches with Wally and that’s where I learned a lot,” she said.
NTC Vice President Ken Watts shared his story of grief and struggle after the sudden passing of his father. He was able to reach out for help to get him through his toughest times. He urged young people to reach out for help whenever they need it because help is always there. He also encouraged them to stay in school, because education is more important than ever.
Rapper Mike Vermette was brought in to inspire the youth. The Lethbridge, Alberta native has roots in Ahousaht. His rap style is unique in that there is no swearing and his messages are all positive.
He was introduced by his relative Ray Samuel.
“I’ve been in hip hop for15 years,” said Vermette, adding that he loves music but doesn’t like the message hip hop usually sends. Using his stage name Elicit, Vermette focusses on positive messages. “If you want to turn frustration into art, music is great release,” he told the crowd.
His latest project is called Consciousness and Vermette was pleased to share his music with the young people.
All six songs he shared are intended to be filled with positive messages.