The Naghtaneqed School in Nemiah celebrated its 25th annual Culture Week early this month.
The school’s 35 children, teachers and staff and the whole Xeni Gwet’in community gets involved in passing on and preserving age-old traditions.
This includes a surprising list of activities: making traditional toys; camping at various sites around Xeni Gwet’in territory; building and using sweatlodges; making gill nets and fishing with gill nets; making gaff hooks; cutting up, cooking and drying fish; skinning deer; cutting, drying, smoking and cooking meat; tanning hides; sewing buckskin; beading; rope braiding; digging wild potatoes; horse management; horse shoeing; basket making; bannock making; gathering traditional medicines; playing lehal; drumming and singing.
Over the years various schools from around School District 27 have come out to share Culture Week with the Naghtaneqed students.
Students prefer holding culture week early in May to coincide with the first harvest of mountain potatoes on the south-facing microclimate slopes at the base of Nemiah Mountain.
Principal Joan Simmons has been teaching at Naghtaneqed for 16 years. She says Culture Week is less formal than the regular classroom setting, but its educational value is very high.
“It helps me build a better rapport with the kids,” she says. “They always teach me. You sort of become a student with them.”
Over the years she has watched students who have gone through Culture Week return to the school to teach the next generation. “It’s come full circle. Students who have mastered some of our activities are coming back to teach others.”
She says one of the key functions of Culture Week is the sense of belonging it creates for the children. “We are proud of that and want to celebrate it with our children.”
Former chief Roger William, now a Xeni Gwet’in councillor and a Cariboo Regional District board member, says he had only been out of high school two years when Culture Week began in 1987. “Twenty-five years is a long time. Culture is so important.” This year William instructed a drumming workshop with Jessica Alphonse and Patrick Lulua.
Sierra William, 9, and Nellie Lulua, 9, have fun making traditional bannock at the Naghtaneqed Culture Week celebrations.