Students at Ucluelet elementary school had a delicious learning experience last Tuesday as they feasted on salmon, herring eggs, seaweed and other scrumptious snacks during a Traditional Foods Day celebration.
The students have been learning about traditional foods and healthy eating for the past month as part of their Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations studies.
Ucluelet First Nation Elder Barbara Touchie and her daughter Maureen facilitated the lesson alongside school principal Jennifer Adamson.
“Herring eggs taste delicious,” said Grade 4 student Noah Lim who tasted them for the first time.
“The fried bread tastes like unsweetened donut, it’s good,” added Lim’s classmate Paige Goodwin.
“Deer tastes like beef. It’s really good,” said another student Leigha Auld.
As they munched they learned the Nuu-chah-nulth words for what they were eating.
“We’ve been doing language and preserving the language for a long time because there’s a lot of people that are not fluent speakers anymore,” Maureen said. “It’s dying because there’s not a lot of preservation for the language anymore, there’s a lot of tools but there’s not a lot of people that are actual teachers.”
Maureen’s mother Barbara has been teaching the language since 1996 and became a key contributor to the UES program about three years ago.
“Our kids come to school here and they have parents that don’t speak the language so they’re not introduced to the language and they’re just speaking English,” Barbara said.
She said beginners often pronounce words incorrectly because they break down each word into English sounding syllables.
“Our words are very hard and a lot of First Nations people follow the English way of saying things and it’s not proper,” she said. “It’s important that they say things properly.”
Adamson has been thrilled with Barbara’s steady commitment to her students.
“Barb has dedicated herself to being with me every single Tuesday so that consistency has really helped,” she said.
Adamson brought the Nuuchah-nulth course to UES when she arrived at the school about six years ago and Grade 5 student Kaida Evans said it’s one of her favourite courses because it is interactive and fun.
“There’s just so much energy involved in it a lot of our curriculum we do with songs and games so that the kids are really active,” Adamson said. “It gives kids a little break from all of the typical stuff they do in the day.”
Apart from being a fun way to spend the day, the course is a key tool to explain to students where they come from, according to Adamson.
“To be proud of where they’re from and to know that they could easily live healthy off the land,” she said. “We’re just so rich in our lives that a lot of people don’t realize the simplicity of where we live and we try to remind them of that on a weekly basis; go into nature enjoy the animals and enjoy what we have with us.”
Around the same time she arrived at UES, Adamson was working on her Masters thesis and chose the topic: improving aboriginal education.
She believes students who learn to speak different languages at a young age achieve greater academic success and she was stoked to bring the Nuuchah-nulth course to the UES experience.
“In the very first year that it rolled out I noticed there was a lot of questioning like ‘why are we doing this,’ and now it’s just become the culture of the school that we celebrate where we live and the land that we live on, play on, and work on,” she said.
She hopes her students will eventually be able to have full conversations with each other in Nuu-chah-nulth.
Barbara is not the only Elder to contribute to the program as the school has welcomed lessons from local First Nations elders Levi Martin, Eugene Touchie, and Dr. Bernice Touchie.
Adamson said Elders have been a huge benefit to the class and become key role models for students while also instilling a valuable sense of respect.
“The students learn about talking with Elders and listening and how you speak and how you greet Elders,” Adamson said. “That respect piece I think goes a long way in their communities and just in everyday life.”
With the food component winding down the class is gearing up to learn about chupits-the Nuuchah-nulth word for canoe-from local First Nation carver Joe Martin.
“We wanted to do that in conjunction with this because the main purpose of having a canoe is for food gathering and we’ve just been talking about food and they go hand in hand,” Adamson said. firstname.lastname@example.org