Ready to belt out a few songs in Kwak’wala?
That’s the language spoken by the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation people of northern Vancouver Island and Alert Bay. Through June, free workshops in Kwak’ wala are being offered at community centres across the city, giving anyone a chance to brush up on First Nations song and dance.
The workshops are being taught by a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation as part of the Indigenous Artist in Communities Project, which marks the year of reconciliation over the dark legacy of residential schools. Attendees have the chance to learn nine songs and a chant in the Kwak’wala language, then perform the routine at Trout Lake Community Centre on National Aboriginal Day, June 21.
Each of the songs would have been learned by a child in Kwakwaka’wakw culture, according to a fascinating article by the Vancouver Sun’s Kevin Griffin. The Thunderbird Song, for instance, teaches family togetherness, while the Baby Song teaches how much children are valued. Traditionally, each song and dance would be “owned” – and could only be sung – by a particular family.
However, Kwakwaka’wakw member and course instructor William Wasden Jr. opted to share the songs with the larger community as a gift and to keep the songs alive. The son of tribal chiefs, Wasden learned the songs from elders and is the last remaining member of his people who knows them.
All songs, of course, are sung in the Kwak’wala language, which can require a little getting used to. Here, for instance, are the words to Baby Song:
“Ola ikan noke gaxa kus/su‘man kwala’yu/su’man hasdaxala’yu/he’man xwanukw.”
Translated, that means: “My heart is so happy that you came./You are my reason for living./You are the reason I breath./You are my child!”
Wasden hopes that teaching the songs and traditions can help the process of reconciliation over the damage inflicted on First Nations people by the residential school system. Approximately 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend church-run residential schools in Canada from the 1870s until the mid 20th century. Within the schools, all forms of First Nations culture – from language to traditions – were strictly suppressed.
Leading up to Aboriginal Day on June 21, the free First Nations song workshops are being offered at the following locations:
- Hillcrest Community Centre (4575 Clancy Loranger Way): 2:30 p.m.-4 p.m. on Tuesdays
- Hastings Community Centre (3096 E. Hastings St.): 10 a.m.-noon on Wednesdays
- UBC Learning Exchange (612 Main St.): 4 p.m.-6 p.m. on Thursdays
Would you be interested in a First Nations song workshop? Chime in below.
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