August 22nd, 2015

In canoe Evan Tourchie of Yuuthluithaht. Photo from Melody Charlie of Melody Charlie photography

Living Nuu chah nulth language and culture.

*please note: the Nuuchahnulth language has unique sounds that couldn’t be spelled properly  here because of font non-transferability

I am at an Esowista home, sitting around with my ushyums (relatives) Gisele and Levi. They are saying something about an object in Tla-o-qui-aht dialect of Nuuchahnulth language; and I am concentrating so hard to see if I can understand.

I’m catching these words “far away……….. carver…Victoria…” then this word “chinuth” I’m shaking my head because I don’t know “chinuth”.

Gisele is trying to get this new word across to me using the other words I know without reverting to English. She is describing various places where this “chinuth” thing exists and gesticulating a shape with her hands…aha I get it! It is totem pole!

I’m grateful to Gisele and Levi for the work they have been doing to get Gisele fluent in our local language. It is important that we revitalize our endangered language enough so that that we can be able to transfer it to the young people who can learn it more easily.

On this particular language learning session I joined them, and we walked down the street in the village of Esowista with some chalk to write some things on the speed bumps and the road. Things like “go slow you are too cute to die.” which is a phrase I can not even attempt to anglicize.


nuu chah nulth language

Photo of Levi at bush with word written beside it (hard to see. Look close). It is pretty special to have someone right there to ask about language. Photo Tsimka Martin.

A couple weeks after this language session there was a canoe launching ceremony at Long Beach in front the village of Esowista.

Friends and family of the carver (Joe Martin) and apprentices (Matt Seitcher and Eric Seitcher and more) were present. Along with the blessing and launching ceremony the canoe was also receiving it’s name, Yuuts-as-tsqwee

The name is a word that is a new creation that Gisele and Levi put together. It pieces together three suffix parts to make a concept and name.

Yuuts – from the Yuuchapisalth- meaning “to walk and act carefully and slowly with dignity, honour respect and humility”

‘as – from on the nisma (land)

tsqwee – to “come from” or “a byproduct of”

The canoe is launched and is getting its first taste of salty ocean water. After the first few groups of people have had a test run (paddled around), the canoe is anchored out in the small waves and some kids climb in and start to play. The rest of us head up the beach seeking shade and wait for the clup-chus (traditional salmon bbq by the fire) to cook so that we can feast together.

In this time of cultural revitalization it is nice to be able to participate in events that naturally blend language learning and evolution with honoring new canoes and their new carvers.