Maaqtusiis High School students perform Sparrow Dance to finish off their feast on May 31. (Ileisha George photos)
High school students at Maaqtusiis School hosted a community feast May 31 at the school gym. It was a celebration that they had started working on at the beginning of the school year, when they prepared smoked salmon as part of their cultural education at the school.
According to language and foods teacher Lil Webster, the idea for the school feast started in the summer of 2016 at an elder’s language program. The school has developed an Ahousaht language and culture guide with input from Ahousaht elders.
At one point the elders were talking about traditional foods and how they were prepared. It was then that staff came up with the idea of helping the students host a cultural feast as a hands-on approach to learning language and cultural practices.
According to Pam Frank-Perry, the students were trained in several aspects of hosting a feast. “They learnt Hiinatiimis - traditional invite to all community members, Ha’wiih, elders, every office and all schools – preschool, daycare and elementary,” she said. Webster said six boys were selected to be trained to do Hiinatiimis under the tutelage of Wally Thomas, Marshall Thomas and Alan Williams. The boys that learned Hiinatiimis are Xavier Smith, Mark Frank-Perry, Peter Campbell, David Frank IV, Stanley Campbell and Calvin Hunter/Frank. They went door-to-door to invite people to the feast two weeks ahead of time.
Meanwhile, at the school, the students began making gifts starting at Culture Week in January, continuing their work in native language or Ahousaht culture classes. The students also made cedar headbands, shawls and other regalia needed for the dances they would perform.
They held dance practices every week up to the last two weeks before the event. Then, they began practicing daily.
The feast ran from 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm and everyone from Grades 8 to 12 had a role.
“Some prepped cutlery while others cleaned and did food prep,” said Webster. She said they had been saving smoked fish, halibut, prawns, herring eggs, deer and elk meat for the event and it all needed to be cooked and served.
People in the community donated turkeys and roasts and parents helped with cooking and serving.
“We shared the responsibility of seating Ha’wiih, elders and other guests,” said Pam Frank-Perry.
Following dinner, the students made oral presentations about what they’ve learned about Ahousaht culture. Students Joshua Frank and Matthew Frank kept everyone entertained as they emceed the festivities.
Students handed out certificates to notable community members, ‘standing them up’, as a way to acknowledge their acts of kindness. This was followed by the presentation of gifts that the students made. According to Frank-Perry, they gave away hand-made drums, vests, wall hangers, boxes with designs, paintings, painted shells and floral arrangements made with cedar roses.
“Prayers were done by the Grade 8 students,” said Frank-Perry who described it as a “wow” moment.
“It was so real, so exciting; the emcees were amazing and so was the floor manager, assistant and security” she added.
The students delighted the crown with performances of fun dances like the Sitka and Sparrow dances.
Webster regrets that the school does not have funding for the creation of a school ceremonial curtain but Ha’wilth Hanuquii (Nate Charlie) generously allowed the use of his curtain for the school feast.
When asked what the high school students learned that day, Webster replied, “They learned language, both spoken and written, cultural protocols, food and regalia prep, the Ha’wiih’s names and the songs and dances.”
Cultural Education teacher Wally Thomas said it was important for him to teach his students about respect for themselves and others. “They know the importance of their jobs at potlatches,” he added.
Thomas said he teaches his son that everyone at a potlatch has a role. “Some sing, some chant, and some do set-up and clean-up – it’s lots of work and everyone has a role and each role is important,” said Thomas.
“They did it on their own and they all did their part, even clean-up,” said Webster.
An even bigger event is planned for 2018. According to Webster and Thomas, other nearby schools will be invited to take part and they expect the event to last two days.