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Island resident keeps the Yagan spirit alive

Port Alberni author Jacqueline Windh shares stories of the Yagan people in Nanaimo this Sunday, April 13.
Jacqueline Windh speaks at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library - Meeting Room A at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday April 13.

The spirit of one the world's southernmost indigenous population is being kept alive thanks to the help of a dedicated Vancouver Island author.

Over the past decade Port Alberni resident Jacqueline Windh has played an instrumental role in ensuring that the stories of a South American indigenous group, known as the Yagan of Patagonia, don't die with their only remaining pure-blood by translating them into English.

Windh, whose efforts have cumulated into a book called Hai Kur Mamášu Čis [I Want To Tell You Story], will be at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library on Sunday (April 13) to talk about the Yagan people and Cristina Calderón, the last remaining pure-blood Yagan.

“Some of them are creation myths and transformation stories and some of them are true stories that happened to them,” Windh said about Hai Kur Mamášu Čis.

The stories of the Yagan people were originally written in Yagan and translated into Spanish by Calderón's granddaughter, Cristina Zárraga. The idea to translate the stories into English came about when Windh, who was visiting the Patagonia region, met Zárraga and wanted to share the stories with English-speaking people.

“She [Zárraga] let me read them and I offered to translate them into English,” Windh said.

Although the Yagan people are from the southern part of South America there are plenty of similarities between them and many of the native populations on Vancouver Island, according to Windh.

“They are very similar and that's part of why I wanted to translate them,” she said. “They are very similar to the stories here. They are creation stories and transformation stories.”

Windh was traveling in the Patagonia region when she learned about the Yagan people, who frequently used canoes as a means of transportation.

“I was really surprised to find out that there were native people who were using canoes down there,” Windh said. “I was just amazed when I found out that there were canoeing people down there. I had no clue and most people don't know that.”

Windh's stop in Nanaimo is one of the last remaining stops on her book tour, which has taken her across North America.

“It's been really good. Especially the ones in America,” Windh said about the tour. “The ones in San Francisco and Los Angels were hosted by really high-profile fine arts museums. So, I had a really engaged and enthusiastic audience.”Jacqueline Windh speaks at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library, meeting room A, at 2 p.m. on Sunday (April 13). For more information, please visit