STORIES

Highlights

Additionally, LCS has a ‘mortar-ready’ project prepared, to work with the Ditidaht First Nations Band, in British Columbia. However, our exciting community activity awaits funding. So, although the descriptions are given here are based on exploratory LCS visits and a agreement in principle with the Tribal Council, it should be understood that this information is given to explain a great opportunity that we together see, rather than as a guarantee of future activities. In many ways, the challenges that the community and culture faces and the opportunities for LCS helping cultural revitalization are typical of many we see with N. American and Canadian First Nations.


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Although awaiting funding, preparatory LCS work has been done with the Ditidahts since our first visit in May 2006. Their Band Council is very keen on implementing a unique LCS concept, a ‘Digital Story Quilt’. This woven community craft piece can be linked through bar-codes and mobile phones to digitally-recorded multimedia of their heritage, in their language. It would thus provide a tangible two-dimensional story-map of their intangible heritage, an artifact which encourages social dialogue, cultural awareness and cohesion. Ditidahts not living on the Reserve would also have access to download or add to this living quilt of stories – the Ditidaht Storybase.

In more detail, the proposed Quilt takes the form of an evolving artistic and interactive collage which is both physical and digital, incorporating the personal and tribal history, folklore, language, and culture of the Ditidaht people. It will use the best of Web 2.0 technologies to combine assets of cultural heritage in digital forms - audio, video, images and text - collected using social networking. The result will help preserve the Ditidaht culture and language, but also create a trigger for cultural dialogue and continued engagement.

The story quilt will be ‘published’ in three different formats:
•    As a physical quilt, in which each panel depicts a different aspect of the Ditidaht oral heritage and each is individually digitally linked to photos and to audio heritage resources, which can be replayed or augmented locally.
•    As a printed book, for each member of the Ditidaht community.
•    As a website, which will allow the rest of the world to learn in majority languages about public aspects of the Ditidaht culture, but which will also allow Ditidahts living outside the region to stay connected to their community and their heritage via private podcasts, e.g. on mobile devices, and stimulate remote dialogue in their own language.

In conclusion, once sponsors have been found, LCS is keen to begin its first mission with the First Nations of Canada and North America along these lines.

Cultural VALUE

The Ditidaht people live primarily on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. The village is located on the shore of the remote Nitinaht Lake – an area of breathtaking beauty set amongst beautiful BC cedar-wooded mountains and lakes. There are mountain peaks all around and a thick blanket of forest as well as wildflowers everywhere.  The lake is claimed to be the best spot in the world for windsurfing because of local wind conditions.

The Ditidahts are an amalgamation of about five smaller indigenous coastal bands, persuaded with some mixed feelings around the early 1960’s  to move inland to the end of the Nitinaht inlet by the Canadian government through the promise of better utilities. The aggregation of these smaller tribal bands was a response to the Canadian government’s requirement for recognition. They are part of a greater network of many indigenous people on the West Coast of North America, Vancouver Island and in the Vancouver area. The rich culture and traditional lifestyles of these indigenous people were completely tied to the sea.  Amongst these tribes, the Ditidahts are unique - in both their language and customs such as dance.

Compulsory Government schooling is also a sad, recent part of the Ditidaht past. Until around 1970-1980 the children in the community had to go to residential schools, where they were not allowed to speak Ditidaht. The custom of potlatches was also banned until the early 1980’s. Personal memories echo this feeling of exploitation. A story of a British man coming to the village with a suitcase full of money to buy Ditidaht cultural goods is still remembered - a woman described how a canoe carving that her grandparents possessed is now in the British Museum.

Their Tribal Reserve is limited in area, so the village is home to only about to approximately 250 people, 60 % of which are children. The majority of the approximate 700 tribal members do not live in the village, but in the surrounding towns or communities due to lack of work opportunities as well as a lack of access to health care. The main employment is in the nearby fishery factories, at the school, or from the Tribal Band itself, e.g. in its motel.

With respect to government, the Ditidaht Band is a component of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribe. However, although the Ditidaht and Nuu-chah-nulth languages are related, they are different languages. The Ditidaht language is unique – it is not a dialect. Traditionally it is not a written language, although an orthography has now been created. Sadly, there are only about 10 fluent native speakers left, all over the age of 60, and some now in poor health. Songs are a central part of the culture, some being family owned, with rules controlling the listening to and singing of songs. Stories and songs having to do with their tribal history are particularly important. Ditidaht creation myths are mainly about the transformation of all creatures into animals and humans. (Their ‘trickster’ figure is a mink, rather than a raven.) Dance is closely related and also an important part of their culture. Some traditional cedar canoe-building and carving crafts are still present.

The two centers of tribal cultural life in the village are the new Ditidaht Community School and the Community Hall. The school has a new language and culture revival program. The Ditidaht elders and the school together with a dedicated linguist have created a program to help revive their culture of songs and dances as well as create a curriculum to teach the Ditidaht language. The school has computers and fast access to the Internet through a satellite connection.

LOCAL Team

Coming soon

Threats

The challenges faced by the Ditidaht Tribal Band are typical of Native American cultures.Of the 154 tribal languages still spoken in USA, more than half now have only a handful of elderly speakers, due to disease, persecution and the program of compulsory residential schooling. Without action, 70 of these languages will be extinct in next 10 years.

The compulsory residential schooling, which forbad practice of their traditional customs and speaking in Ditidaht only ended around 1970-1980. The result of 60+ years of government ban has left less than 10 older speakers and probably a legacy of distrust of government, despite investments in infrastructure. These traditional fishers are allowed to fish for food, but not permitted to sell fish, this preventing them pursuing their traditional livelihood. The inherited skills and ecosystem knowledge of these coastal peoples is therefore threatened.

Despite the low number of speakers left in the community, there is a strong awareness of their cultural heritage, for example who has the right to perform different songs or dances . However, there is concern about songs being ‘stolen’ at the annual big inter-tribal coastal canoe journey celebration.

Although pride is often expressed by the older Ditidahts in traditional practices and language, many of the youth seem disinterested about the Ditidaht language classes: why should they need to learn an old language? Reconnecting all the Ditidahts with their linguistic heritage by learning their traditional language and reviving their song, dance and story telling traditions in new ways would a great way to strengthen social cohesion and identity. However, for a community program to have real impact, everyone needs to believe in it, seeing a connection between past traditions, new skills and future opportunities.

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