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Teaching Parents by Teaching their Children

Irene Robinson explains her children’s book, which is helping to teach new generations the Nuu-chah-nulth language. Photo: Simon Chambers

June 21, 2012

By Simon Chambers

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Jackie Wells, Family and Health Services Team Leader at the Port Alberni Friendship Centre, really appreciates the “easy speak” that is included in a children’s book written by Irene Robinson to help teach Nuu-chah-nulth language and culture to children in the community.

The book, which teaches children about different ceremonies in Nuu-chah-nulth culture which gather people together and feed them a meal, provides the name of each ceremony written both in the Nuu-chah-nulth alphabet and also phonetically in the Roman alphabet.  “I like the easy speak,” said Wells, “because it lets me learn along with my child.”  Wells, like most of the Nuu-chah-nulth, cannot read her language and speaks very little of it.

Al Little, at the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation (NEDC)””a PWRDF partner working to preserve the language””explained that there are only about 200 fluent speakers of Nuu-chah-nulth left, most of them over 65.

Robinson said that the language is in trouble because of the residential schools, where children were often beaten or otherwise punished for speaking in their own language.  She spoke of one elder’s description of his experience: “Every time he speaks [Nuu-chah-nulth], his stomach clenches because of the memories of the beatings he received at residential school for speaking his language.”

Irene Robinson, Jackie Wells, and the other staff at the Friendship Centre, have shared their book with local schools, the local library, and through their programs for children and parents.    The book has created an opportunity for elders to pass on their knowledge of their language and culture.

The reclamation of their culture has given pride and confidence to young people of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation today.  “I see kids who go to school on the reserve to learn their culture, singing, and dancing.  They feel good about themselves.  They’re confident.  They walk like they’re taller.  It makes me proud,” said Robinson.

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