Mariah Elliott, a student from Bayview Elementary School, receives a necklace after her school’s performance at the T’uxusthamsh language celebration Thursday at Ladysmith Secondary School. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith students show off Hul’q’umin’um’ language skills

First Nations elders, teachers and students celebrate indigenous language

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is helping to restore the Hul’q’umin’um’ language in the school district.

One of the many adverse effects of residential schools was not allowing indigenous dialects, and as a result, a generation wasn’t able to learn its mother tongue. The district’s T’uxusthamsh language sharing event was held at Ladysmith Secondary School on Thursday, showcasing area First Nations language and Jerry Brown, a Snuneymuxw First Nation elder and Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools Hul’q’umin’um’ instructor, said the present is a stark contrast from the past.

Growing up, Brown said his parents and family didn’t speak Hul’q’umin’um’ because they were criticized and didn’t force it on him due to the treatment they received. He said his uncle told him teachers had straps to discipline those who spoke it. The language celebration is proof that times have changed, he said.

“Everybody’s together, supports each other,” said Brown. “The core subjects and the Hul’q’umin’um’, they all support each other. It gives pride to not only the teachers, the [educational assistants], the students, the families. It’s trying to encourage the families to come in … so it’s bridging a lot of areas.”

Lawrence Mitchell, a Snaw-Naw-As band councillor, said the only second language he was able to learn as a child was French and he didn’t even know that he had a language. He is pleased that students in the district now have that opportunity.

“It really uplifts me to see and hear all of our children across the district learning and speaking and living and acting out the language … it really makes us feel stronger inside and better about who we are,” Mitchell said.

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While the event started out as the Spuptitul, a language competition, it has evolved on the advice of elders, said Bill Robinson, longtime Nanaimo school district trustee.

“It started out just single words, short phrases and the competition was just if you knew those words and we kept pushing to hear the language, to hear it spoken and we’ve evolved to that over the last [three] years where kids at least are singing in the language, doing short plays in the language, bringing the language to life,” said Robinson.

Mariah Elliott, an indigenous student from Bayview Elementary, said she “really loves Hul’q’umin’um’” and it is amazing to celebrate aboriginal culture. She said the students performed a song from their support worker’s Anishinaabe culture.

“I really like her songs and especially the ones she does in the assembly,” Elliott said.

Robinson said there are “wonderful things” happening in the district around language revitalization.

“We’re adding new Hul’quimin’um’ teachers, there are really exciting things going on in schools like Bayview, with the language,” he said. “We’re moving, in my opinion, towards Hul’q’umin’um’ immersion, like French immersion.”



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