things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #30

At the Port Hardy Library, we've been hosting visits from the local First Nations school, from the Gwa'sala-Nakwaxda'xw Nations. (That is pronounced GWA-sala Nak-wah-da.) The children have been engaged and enthusiastic, and although my contact with them is brief, I'm enjoying it so much.

Of course, I'm especially excited about strenthening the library connection for tweens and teens. We've been working on digital literacy, which I've made into a bingo game. (Librarians will turn anything into bingo.) It's been touching to see our regular customers -- many of whom are from the same community -- graciously forego some computer time to accommodate the students.

Last week, I attended an event at the Gwa'sala Nakwaxda'xw School for the first time. There's a lot of poverty among Indigenous communities, and the reserve in Port Hardy reflects that, a sad reminder that the legacy of colonization is with us every day. Knowing this, I was unprepared for the brilliance of the school.

The building itself was beautiful, with soaring ceilings and lots of natural light, filled with art in the Coast Salish style. The event was in the evening, and to my surprise, we all had dinner together. Adults were serving behind giant tureens of soup -- a choice of beef, chicken, halibut, sockeye, or vegetarian -- and handing out freshly baked buns, all cooked by the Grade 7 students. The boys and young men drummed and chanted, and a group of young women danced in traditional clothes they had made themselves.

Everyone was so warm and welcoming. Many of the students recognized and greeted me, and the teachers and other adults were just so lovely. As a settler on Indigenous land (as every non-Indigenous Canadian is), I am so conscious of being respectful and not wanting to offend or overstep. Vancouver Island is a very friendly place, and it's not that I expected anything else at the Gwa'sala School. But this extended beyond superficial friendliness; it was a genuinely warm welcome.

A very long time ago, I volunteered and then taught at a place called The Door in New York City. The Door provided education, counseling, legal services, health services, creative art classes, social supports, and nutritious (and delicious) meals to young people who were out of school. It was so much more than a school: it was a community. Last week I recognized the same feeling at the Gwa'sala Nakwaxda'xw School. It felt honoured and privileged to be witness to it.

So what did I hear? Drumming, chanting, the jingling of dancing metal beads. I heard Gila'kasla: welcome.

These mosaic fish are floating on a mobile.

Apologies for the poor image quality. The light was dim and I had only my phone.

These are drums the boys made from original materials.
I wish you could see the little guy in the centre of the circle.

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