A new video series by the Kumugwe Cultural Society highlights the voices of K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people whose stories encompass the strength that comes with practicing a living culture, and the urgency of preservation.
The Kumugwe Cultural Society began releasing the series of vignette interviews titled Hutlilala xa Ninoxsola – Listen to the Wise Ones on YouTube this spring.
Kumugwe Cultural Society is based in Courtenay, B.C., and works to preserve, promote and advocate for K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw cultures. The new video series is funded by the B.C. Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
Kumugwe Cultural Society administrator Ḵe’naḵwa’las, Lee Everson, says the series serves to document community stories, and share culture as anti-racism work. It also has become a tool for increasing community connection during a pandemic, she says, as speakers have a place to share and reflect.
“They are able to connect so well to themselves and their culture, to articulate it in such a beautiful way,” Everson says.
“They are so open to share that with everybody. And I think that’s really very powerful.”
Everson believes in the importance of communicating culture, to bridge understanding between different cultures, races and religions, she says. Though the work has been focused on K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw cultures for now, she hopes that as the series continues, knowledge keepers from other nations will be included.
During an interview with IndigiNews, Everson’s grandson enters the room exactly when she quotes her husband, Hereditary Chief Nagedzi Rob Everson of the Giglagam Walas Kwaguł.
Chief Nagedzi stresses the importance of preserving their culture — the names, songs, dances and stories passed on by ancestors long ago, traditions still practiced and upheld in communities today.
“We are temporary keepers, ensuring that those same names, songs and dances are there for our descendants,” he says. “Everything we do is for our children and grandchildren.”
So far, videos have featured Hereditary Chief Wedlidi Speck, (E’iksan), Hereditary Chief Tl’akwagila, and Charles Willie, (K̓ak̓akilaga). Other community knowledge keepers, ranging from Elders to youth voices, are also profiled in the series.
Culture is the lens
Hutlilala xa Ninoxsola – Listen to the Wise Ones began as an invitation to the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers to come to Kumugwe, for a sharing initiative, says Everson.
COVID-19 interrupted that plan, so the project shifted to meet an essential need to record knowledge from Elders and other community members — especially with respect to the land and the need to protect resources for future generations.
In the video series, interviewees respond to questions such as ““How will children today do a better job of protecting our environment and resources?”
U’magalis, Mary Everson is featured in one of the videos. She is Noxsola (knowledge keeper in the Kwak’wala language), of Walas Kwagu’l and Pentlatch descent. She is the mother of Hereditary Chief Nagedzi, and the daughter of Hereditary Chief Nagedzi, Andy Frank.
Why is it important to teach youth about nature and the world around us? What is your prayer for Mother Earth?” are some of the questions asked throughout the series.
“Everywhere you look, there are different brothers and sisters up and down the coast, or from east coast to west coast… to protect the land from government and industry,” says Hereditary Chief Tl’akwagila, Charles Willie, K̓ak̓akilaga in response. “They are learning and understanding for themselves that we need Mother Earth, and they’re stepping up to do that.”
Noxsola (knowledge keeper) K̓ilgałix̱a’lakw- Evelyn Voyageur, Dzawada̱’enux̱w shared her prayer for Mother Earth in her video.
“Without the care of Mother Earth, without the people caring for Mother Earth, it’s not going to get healthy, so I pray for the return of what was before. My prayer is someday we will get healthy by regaining what we lost in the name of… civilization, I guess it’s called,” says K̓ilgałix̱a’lakw.
U’magalis says it’s important to share culture because it gives identity, purpose, and responsibility.
“That self-pride is different than boastful pride,” U’magalis shares in the video. “It’s something that grows within you, you become aware, and you do the best that you can, you make the best choices.
“Because you’re not making choices just for yourself — for your family, and then in turn, for the whole village and then the community.”
Another question asked was “What memories do you have of receiving teachings from your Elders?”
In the video, U’magalis tells a story about her grandmother, who taught her about land stewardship, and uses medicine protocols as an example of best practice. She also discusses the importance of teaching youth respect for the places they live, places they visit, and the places that were important to ancestors.
“When I gather medicine, I make sure I leave a lot left, so that it can regrow for the next year,” U’magalis says. “That [is an important] responsibility to the environment, and to ensure that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will one day be able to go and pick those medicines.”
‘We miss you’
When the Everson family women speak, there is a natural tendency towards intergenerational references — both future and past.
In remembering, quoting, and sharing, the wisdom of five generations is communicated.
A conversation with Lee Everson, now a grandmother, extends to her daughter La̱lx̱sa̱n Dala’ogwa, Keisha Everson. The conversation with U’magalis, who is now a great grandmother, brings in stories from her father and grandmother.
La̱lx̱sa̱n Dala’ogwa spoke about the timeliness of the series, and clear losses that come with not being able to gather during the pandemic. One of those losses has been not being able to hold Potlatch.
“We say ‘we miss you’ but you can’t really put it into one sentence,” La̱lx̱sa̱n Dala’ogwa says.
“We miss hugging you. We miss dancing with you. We miss listening to you saying, we miss laughing with you. We miss sharing stories, sharing songs, sharing our culture, bringing out those masks and regalia that haven’t seen the light of day and, you know, over a year or in some cases much, much longer, depending on the family.”
‘Gently and honestly’ educate
The project is not only a tool for community preservation, but also focuses on increasing understanding for those outside of the local Indigenous community, says La̱lx̱sa̱n Dala’ogwa.
“I really hope these videos can educate people gently and honestly about the realities that indigenous people face here in Canada,” she says. “We are actively working against hurts that happen on a day-to-day basis in our communities.”
She says it’s ultimately about sharing wisdom, and looks for a silver lining during difficult times.
“By filming our Ni’noxsola, and sharing videos of them online, we’re able to share that wisdom with more people, which is good and powerful,” La̱lx̱sa̱n Dala’ogwa says.