Ditidaht receives British Royals to open new library

By Debora Steel, September 16, 2014

Princess Sophie speaks with children from Ditidaht at the opening of the new community library. Prince Edward looks on.

Photos by Debora Steel

Nitinat Lake (Ditidaht First Nation) — 

The community of Ditidaht First Nation hosted Prince Edward and Princess Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, on Sept. 15 for the opening of a new library and community gathering place.

The Prince and Princess were greeted at their helicopter by Ditidaht royalty, Ha’wilth Paul Tate, his speaker, Phillip Edgar, and elected Chief Jack Thompson.

The Prince laughed with Tate after the helicopter flew over the area and then out of sight again as a first helicopter carrying other dignitaries landed in a cleared-off field. Prince Edward said he hoped the Ha’wilth didn’t think the couple had a change of mind. He said the couple flew over Ditidaht’s traditional lands, along Nitinat Lake to view the community’s fisheries operations, and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Prince Edward commented on the beauty of the territory.

See our photos from this visit at: http://www.hashilthsa.com/gallery/prince-edward-and-princess-sophie-visi...

Before making their way to the community, where elders and school children were among those awaiting the arrival of the Royal Couple, a traditional cedar headband was placed atop Princess Sophie’s head. The band was woven by one of Ditidaht’s eldest citizens, Fran Edgar, and Lucy Edgar placed it on the Princess’s head, saying, “you wear our crown.”  Princess Sophie wore the headband throughout her entire stay in the community.

Ditidaht leadership led the way to a stage set up between the new library building and the school. Emceeing the formal portion of the morning was Bob Blacker with the North Delta Rotary Club. Blacker had worked with former B.C. Lt.-Gov. Steven Point to bring the community library to Ditidaht as part of the Write to Read program. Write to Read works to increase levels of literacy among Aboriginal people in British Columbia.

The library at Ditidaht was sparked by a dream of Eva Clarke, a Ditidaht School teacher, who wished for a place that the community could gather. She dreamed of a place where there could be story time and storytelling, Reader Theatre, and Read Aloud night. She hoped for a place to offer adult education, and internet access. Clarke is pursuing a Master’s in literacy.

The only library in the community was in the school, which was closed on weekends, in the evenings and in the summer, Clarke told Ha-Shilth-Sa. She told her dream to a former principal of Ditidaht School, who knew someone with the Rotary Club. The Ditidaht library is the ninth facility Rotary has been involved with, bringing Write to Read to remote communities. Ditidaht is located about an hour-and-a-half’s drive on logging roads from Port Alberni.

The project blossomed beyond all imaginings when it was announced that the Royal Couple was intending to visit. Point and Blacker had gone into the community last year to discuss the Write to Read program, and said they had never been so warmly welcomed. They sought to put Ditidaht on the Royal agenda because they knew the community would be tremendous hosts.

Once onstage, and through a spokesperson, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II, formally asked permission to be on Ditidaht “titled lands.” The acknowledgement of Ditidaht’s title to the territory was mentioned at least one other time during the couple’s visit.

Chief Jack Thompson said he was “totally surprised” that people at that level of the British monarchy would know about Canada’s issue around Aboriginal title. Thompson said it seemed to solidify the recent Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in decision to have someone that high up recognizing Ditidaht title.

To welcome the Royal Couple, who were accompanied to the territory by Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon, Chief Thompson sang a song. Then the community’s dancers performed a Paddle Song. Speaker Phillip Edgar explained that it was a song that was sung traditionally by the community as they tied guests’ canoes to the shore so they would stay put until the business in the community was done. It was figuratively securing the couple’s helicopter to the territory, he joked. After the dance was done, the dancers, who had practiced for many weeks, presented the Prince and Princess with a paddle.

In his opening remarks to the community, Prince Edward thanked everyone for the welcome, adding that it was a great honor to be present in the community. He said he brought greetings from his family, his mother, his grandparents and great grandparents.

He then called upon the members of the Ditidaht paddle club to come forward. The club is only three years old, and has already produced some champions, with eight of the members recently returning from the North American Indigenous Games, some with medals. The Royals presented a gift of new graphite paddles.

The Prince and Princess then joined Ditidaht leadership and Rotarian representatives in front of the new library steps to cut a ribbon. The Princess spoke briefly with the two young girls—Ciara Joseph and Hailey Thomspon--dressed in their traditional regalia, holding the ends of the ribbon. With the ribbon cut, the children of Ditidaht were the first allowed into the new library building, followed by the Royals who met Ditidaht’s library committee.

The Princess sat and read with some of the children, while the Prince spoke about the facility with Rotarians and Ditidaht community members. They both took time to take pictures with anyone who asked.

The new library is actually the old school building, and has a number of rooms. There is the library proper, which now boasts more than 4,000 books, thanks to the Rotary Clubs of North Delta and Port Alberni, as well as Literacy Alberni. London Drugs donated the library's computers. And a computer lab has been added where community members can access the internet. Computers purchased by Ditidaht's Community Services department.

As an added surprise, the community also installed a games room for the young people, with foosball and ping pong tables and air hockey. The children didn’t know about the room before that day, and they were anxious to try out the games.

After the tour, the Prince visited the RCMP station with Cst. Connie Villeneuve and the Princess went down to the boat launch to meet with the paddle club. After looking over the traditional canoes, the Princess watched as the club demonstrated its skills on the lake. She then donned a lifejacket and went out on the water with the club for a spin in a canoe appropriately named Princess. Sophie seemed an expert paddler and very happy to be out on the water.

Then it was back to the school where the community had gathered to share a meal of salmon, halibut, Dungeness crab and all the fixin’s. After the meal, gifts were exchanged and the couple bid the community goodbye, off to their next stop with the Namgis.

Chief Thompson was happy with how the day unfolded. He said it was an amazing, once in a lifetime event to have “people of that caliber” come to the community to help open the library. He said the community was excited to have the Royals there, and the Royals seemed excited to be at Ditidaht.

Thompson said the Prince and Princess were very “down to earth”, they had time for everybody and didn’t leave anybody out.

“They seemed to connect with the community,” Thompson said. “It was a really good day. The community members enjoyed it.”