Silent speakers no more, students from the Nisga’a language class stood in front of an audience and delivered personal speeches last week.
After three years of studying their traditional language with Verna Williams, more than 10 students graduated from the Level 2 Nisga’a class on March 28.
“I’ve been in the class for about three years now… I grew up with Nisga’a language, I lost it during my school time, and it’s coming back now, slowly but surely,” Janet Stevens said, after her presentation.
Stevens and her classmates graduated at the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society’s Blessing Feast. This was the first time the society had organized this event. Members who had created any sort of cultural item — cedar hats, drums, baskets, regalia and moccasins — in the past year were invited to a potluck dinner.
After filling their plates with stewed sea lion, roe-on-kelp, seaweed and salmon eggs, the language students presented their speeches, and then Reverend Anthony Adams blessed the regalia.
Audrey Barton, who has studied the Nisga’a language on and off for the past 10 years, brought her cedar hat and regalia to be blessed.
“When they bless this it gives us the ability to dance, and it breathes life into it. When we make our hats we have to dance in them before they get life,” Barton said.
The evening was full of laughter and messages of encouragement to keep the language and culture alive.
Ron Nyce, who is the language facilitator at the Nisga’a Society, and who emceed the event, kept sharing the message that if they don’t use it, they will lose it.
“We hear that there are some First Nation languages that are disappearing and we are in a process of avoiding that in our case,” Nyce said.
He addressed the ‘silent speakers’ and that they need to speak, it’s their identity. Nyce teaches the language to elementary school children, and he’s teaching the staff to receive the members in the office in Nisga’a.
But as the language continues to be spoken at the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society, this was Williams’ last class. She travels from New Aiyansh to teach in Prince Rupert, and the 240km drive is a bit too far to continue. After all the laughs she’s had with the group that just graduated, she said she’s going to miss them.
Her message to them is to never stop speaking, even if they have no one to speak the language to.
“I really encourage them to keep up the good work because they’re shy,” she said.
“Keep going and don’t wait, because your identity is the Nisga’a language and our culture.”
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Shannon Lough | Editor
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