William ‘Wa’ Wasden

William ‘Wa’ Wasden

Kwakwala song rings in season

Wagalus students sing out a Christmas classic with a twist.

PORT HARDY—Listeners of The Port 1240AM Wednesday morning may not have recognized the words, but the Christmas song — and the enthusiasm of the singers — was unmistakable.

A group of 16 students from Wagalus School in Fort Rupert descended on the radio station Tuesday afternoon and recorded their version of Jingle Bells. What made the song unique is that is was sung entirely in Kwakwala, the native language of the Kwakiutl and other Kwakwaka’wakw peoples.

“We’re here to encourage the language revitalization that’s been brought to our communities by the language champions, by the elders who are still with us, speaking the language,” said Davida Hunt, daughter of longtime language teacher Mary Hunt. “The children of Wagalus School have a real good sense of belonging to the community and a connection to the land, through language.

The children were taught the song and directed by hereditary chief William “Wa” Wasden, who stepped in to help with language education this year after Mary Hunt retired at age 77.

“They like to sing,” said Wasden. “They’d rather sing than just talk language.”

The song and an interview with Davida Hunt were recorded Dec. 17 and aired the following morning. It was part of a larger series of performances by the children, including one Dec. 16 during the band’s Christmas dinner and another, by preschoolers, Dec. 18.

“The children have such a good, positive feeling when they’re singing in Kwakwala,” said Hunt. “Last night at the Kwakiutl Band dinner you could feel the whole room lift up with the singing of this song.”

Hunt told program host Cody Malbeuf the students were taught the most literal translation of Jingle Bells from English, adding a degree of to the instruction. And they learned the long version.

“FYI, not a lot of people sing the verses like they did,” said Wasden. “Most people just sing the chorus.”

Hunt is one of several local students in an aboriginal language revitalization program run through the University of Victoria. The introduction of Kwakwala to elementary and preschool-aged children is an effort by the “language champions” to stave off extinction of the language with the passing of the few elders left who speak fluently.

A five-month language revitalization planning program was kicked off in Fort Rupert last month, and will include events in the new year on the Quatsino and Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw reserves.

Program coordinator said last week’s performance by the Wagalus students was a tribute to Mary Hunt, who has championed the preservation of the Kwakwala language for decades. New warriors, like her daughter and like Wasden, are picking up that mantle.

 

Just Posted

The river behind the ball field. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Pulled by the flow: river stirs up childhood memories

Gazette editor makes trek through Port Hardy wilderness to swim in the river

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Alert Bay council has decided to cancel Canada Day celebrations. (Alertbay.ca photo)
Alert Bay council cancels Canada Day celebrations

The decision was made in wake of the mass graves being found at former residential schools

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Most Read