Passing cultural teachings to the future: Hesquiaht artist builds centre for Nuu-chah-nulth youth | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Passing cultural teachings to the future: Hesquiaht artist builds centre for Nuu-chah-nulth youth

Port Alberni, BC

The money isn’t all there, but the framing and the dream of a cultural library are moving forward as Hesquiaht elder and artist Tim Paul and friends press ahead with the construction of a cultural knowledge center. The new center is going up on Josephine Street in Port Alberni, at the site of the former NTC smokehouse which burnt down nearly 20 years ago.

Once completed, the centre, intended for use by Nuu-chah-nulth youth, will house a collection of cultural teachings straight from their ancestors. Paul envisions a cultural library, which he says is important because youth need to learn these teachings directly from their ancestors.

Paul and his late wife Monica shared more than three decades together, taking part in cultural meetings and gatherings. They made recordings of Nuu-chah-nulth elders speaking on several topics related to culture and ceremonies. Paul plans to have the 30-plus years of recordings digitized to be shared in the cultural centre he is helping to build.

Paul says the recordings are the voices of dozens of Nuu-chah-nulth elders talking about culture, ceremonies, language and more. Paul wants to leave these teachings for Nuu-chah-nulth youth, so that they can be carried forward to future generations.

Once the recordings are digitized, Paul says the tapes will go to the families of the elders that were taped.

“This is for all Nuu-chah-nulth people, 34 years of recordings of ceremonies, teachings,” said Paul.

But first, the center needs to be built.

Work has begun, starting with a small building that was to serve as a cultural visitor’s center. The structure, worth an estimated $90,000, was donated by San Group. It was to be a place where Nuu-chah-nulth artists could go to work on projects and showcase their skills to visitors.

Originally located next to  n̓aasn̓aasʔaqsa, Tim Paul’s language pole on the Somass River, the little building was forced out by City of Port Alberni zoning bylaws. The city said the site was zoned for industrial purposes and therefore unsafe for the centre.

In September 2023 the little building was moved to Josephine Street, to the property of Hupacasath artist and elder Ḥaa’yuups, Ron Hamilton. It sits on the concrete foundation of the former NTC Smoke House. Several volunteers came together to prepare the property and to move the building.

“We are regulated to death,” said Paul, noting that rules slow projects so much that it’s difficult to get anything done in a timely fashion.

The donated shed will still serve its original purpose at the new location on Josephine Street, off of River Road.

With a $30,000 contribution from the Catholic Diocese, Paul and his team of volunteers have begun construction of a large addition to the carving shed. The church contribution covered the cost of construction materials but they need more to finish the centre.

Paul said members of his family are sending in applications for grants to complete the project.

“We’re doing this completely on our own,” said Paul. “I want to instill in our youth to be self-sufficient, independent… we have to do it ourselves or it will never get done.”

Paul shared a Nuu-chah-nulth word that this writer could not spell – he said it means ‘the way we do things’.

“It’s tribal law,” said Paul. “We make everyone aware of what we’re doing so there will be no questions.”

“In tribal law the grandmothers and mothers were the decision makers,” he noted.

Motioning to the front door of the nearby carving tent, Paul said they would enter the gathering place through the main door.

“They would hear all the opinions, talk, listen to all sides, and try to reach consensus” he shared. “They may not have always had 100 per cent consensus, and they may have needed more time to think about things, but they would do this before acting.”

It is teachings like this that are contained in Paul’s collection of recordings. He said he wants to leave these recordings for the young people in order to instill in them the teachings we have left. The recordings are of several Nuu-chah-nulth elders the Pauls spent time with over the decades.

Paul says these recordings are important because they come from many families. Sometimes, he said, people question the source of teachings that are shared.

“These teachings (in the recordings) are words from your grandmother,” said Paul.

“If we instill in our young to always [have] a positive outlook…whatever gift you have in your life, always use it for good. Make people feel good and happy. Treat people the way you want to be treated. This is the way we do things…the way were,” said Paul

To support the creation of the cultural centre, a non-profit society has been created. Elton Watts is accepting donations for the centre on behalf of Tiic Mup Society. According to Paul, Tiic Mup means “how to survive”.

Plans are already in the works for a summer event at the site of the centre. Paul says there will be a youth gathering at the Josephine Street site from June 15 – 17.

“We need to get youth together. It’s a small start,” said Paul.

The gathering will start with welcoming from host nation, Hupacasath. Hesquiaht will perform next followed by special guests, a Māori group from New Zealand.

Share this: