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Experiential learning with the Gitxsan

Language and Culture Camp

August 18, 2015

Northwest Community College’s People of the Skeena Field School recently featured a unique Gitxsan cultural experience. With the Lax Skiik (Eagle) hosts at the first T’seliksit Language and Culture Camp,and with funding from the Government of Canada, NWCC students were offered something new this summer.

“Field Schools, and collaborative educational experiences with First Nations communities, offer powerful learning experiences which stay with students forever,” said Sheree Ronaasen, NWCC Professor. “They have long reaching positive impacts for the community as a whole.”

Participation in camp life taught students key words and expressions where families spoke the Gitxsan language while preparing fish: netting, cleaning, brining, smoking, and canning sockeye, pink, and spring salmon.

Students gained hands-on experience while tending the smoking cottonwood in the smokehouse, and other traditional activities such as cedar weaving, picking berries, and living off the river and the land.

 “Every hour, minute, and second spent on Lax Skiik territory was inspiring,”said Tanya Cordeiro, NWCC Student. “We were always learning something new.”

The group was fortunate to experience the Skeena River as they rafted down the ancient waterways of the Gitxsan with Lax Skiik Hereditary Chief Sakum Hiigokxw. The rafters launched from the Lax Skiik fishing site of Gwax T’seliksit (Ritchie), and floated along the ancient Gitxsan territories to Gitangaat, the Eagle territory and watershed of Fiddler Creek.

Remarkably, Eagle territories and the Chief’s titles extend back thousands of years to the period of glaciation.

“The Gitxsan, and especially Hereditary Chief Skayan, showed us how interconnected we are with the natural world,” said NWCC Student, Lothlan Olsen.

Students also helped participate in a special cultural experience with a Feast hosted right on the land or the Lax Yip. This All-Clans Feast included Halaiytm Thiits (the formal protocol invite of Simgigyet or Chiefs) from Gitwangak, Gitanyow, and Gitsegukla.

It started with a welcoming song by participants and showcased the many preserves of berries and salmon. The 50 participants of all ages were fed amazing food, soup, and salmon cooked several different ways. Chiefs spoke heartfelt speeches, about the Gitxsan territories and the land tenure system, and history of the Gitsxan on the land.

“For me, the highlight was the Feast, as it demonstrates the importance of traditions to the Gitxsan and how they do their transactions,” said student Alisha Webber.

In the end, and in the true tradition of the Feast, each student went home with a huge box of gifts of food.

“The language and culture camp is about unity and teamwork, and preserving our language and way of life,”said Hereditary Chief Skayan (Anita Davis). “I noticed a positive change in the students while spending every day outdoors, and I know in my heart that the camp was successful”

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