Four girls from the Kwakiutl First Nation who spoke at the UN (from left) Kiara Child, Natalya Child, Mariah Child, Talia Child.

Four girls from the Kwakiutl First Nation who spoke at the UN (from left) Kiara Child, Natalya Child, Mariah Child, Talia Child.

Vancouver Island First Nations Youth Ambassadors deliver message to the United Nations

The delegation appeared at an event celebrating ‘the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity’

Five students from the Saanich Peninsula – four from Stelly’s school and one from Bayside school – made a presentation this month at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, as part of the ‘2019 Year of Indigenous Languages.’

A delegation led by Coreen Child, included youth ambassadors Talia, Kiara, Natalya, Mariah and Roman Child, as well as Dominik Nelson, from the Kwakiutl First Nation. They were supported by six adult Kwakiutl educational leaders.

READ ALSO: Beecher Bay First Nation, Matchosin and Pearson College sign land memorandum.

In an eloquent speech, Kiara said that through their movement, they hoped to demonstrate their Hassay (connection to the breath of their ancestors) and to advocate for Kwak’wala (their language) to be a central part of their lives.

Back in B.C., Kiara describes her motivation to attend. “We went as part of a collective, not just adults, so the youth had a voice too. We all have work to do to revitalize our language and culture.”

The group wore potlatch regalia as they danced and sang, and performed their ‘Ladies dance’, to show the international audience their traditions are still being maintained. The song and dances are hundreds of years old and were passed down through word of mouth and demonstration. Language, culture and ceremony are very important to the Kwakiutl, as they believe they provide an unbroken line of communication to their ancestors. The regalia the students wore, and the button blanket they displayed, are also full of symbols representing a visual history of their people.

The students spoke clearly, in both English and Kwak’wala, despite admitting to nerves once inside the assembly. Afterwards, they met a number of foreign dignitaries including the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who is the first Indigenous premier of his country.

“We’re focusing on bringing the language back. We’re creating resources, starting curriculums and courses to do at home,” said Kiara. “Language is so important as it is a big piece of an individual’s identity.”

To the students, language is not just a tool of immediate communication.

“Kwak’wala is [literally] our language but it not only connects you to the people and land around you, it also connects you with your ancestors who passed their words down before you,” said Natalya.

RELATED: Indigenous carvers bring art to the people outside Victoria’s Royal BC Museum.

While the Child family currently reside on the Saanich Peninsula, Kwak’wala-speaking communities are historically from the north of Vancouver Island. In their home territory surrounding Port Hardy, there are pockets of fluent speakers, but the Kwakiutl still struggle against the ill effects of colonialism.

The UN estimates that 40 per cent of the world’s 6,700 languages are under threat, and the teenagers are partially looking to combat this by encouraging their schools and community to write more in Kwak’wala. Mariah has written a book and plans to write another soon.

“We’re the generation to try and turn things around from the residential schools that impacted mass amounts of communities across Canada,” said Natalya quietly.

Kiara agrees. “By writing things down and making records, we’re taking small steps to efficiently help people learn.”



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

First Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Food trucks will be allowed to operate in several Sooke parks beginning May 1. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sooke’s food truck pilot project under scrutiny

Councillor questions impact food trucks will have on nearby restaurants

A walk for autism awareness. (Black Press Media file photo)
COLUMN: Autism acceptance, not autism awareness

Elizabeth Sparling is the mother of a 24-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
PHOTOS: Vehicle driven into Saanich Walmart removed after two trapped workers rescued

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Tons of bottles were donated during bottle drives in Sooke and Langford on March 27. The funds raised from the drives will help a local family stay with their daughter during her leukemia treatments in Vancouver. (Photos: Glendora Scarfone)
Sooke, Langford bottle drives help cover family’s costs of staying with daughter during cancer treatments

More than $11,900 raised to help Shae Hanilton’s family stay with her in Vancouver

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Most Read