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Legends Project

Legends Project: Legends of the Kwak'wala

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | 12:55 AM

Norma Wadhams craddles a rattle (Leah Shaw/CBC)

The Gwich'in Legends were originally broadcast on May 18, 2010 on Ideas on CBC Radio One.

Alert Bay nestles on Cormorant Island, a three mile long, half mile wide island three kilometres northeast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Alert Bay and Cormorant Island are the name s given by the English in the 1800s, but this community was one of several traditional Kwakwaka'wakw villages. The Kwakwaka'wakw were resettled and schooled by government in Alert Bay. Laws were passed banning their potlatch ceremony. Their language, art, and culture were driven underground. In 1904, the Kwakwaka'wakw, now the Namgis First Nation, were believed to number fewer than 200.

Their art, potlatches, songs, and traditions are being revitalized with help from organizations such as the U'Mista Cultural Centre, in Alert Bay. It is U'Mista's mandate to repatriate the many ceremonial artifacts that were taken by museums and private collectors around the world when they believed the Kwakwaka'wakw were --or would soon be--extinct. U'Mista is actively protecting the language, songs, and traditions in its big house ceremonies and archives. It was through teaming up with the dedicated and talented staff and supportive elders that the CBC Radio Legacy team was able to adapt into English some of the traditional legends for this project.

In these legends you will hear some of the timeless Kwakwaka'wakw values: tradition of giving away to show one's wealth, the connection to the majestic killer whales, the significance of the uligan and the cedar tree, and the influence of the islands and sea and all that they have provided for the Kwakwaka'wakw since the beginning of time.

While these stories are in English, the same stories have also been produced in Kwak'wala. It is hoped that these original language versions will help promote and protect the endangered language now and for future generations.

Link to the U'Mista Cultural Centre

LISTEN to Legends of the Kwak'wala (runs 53:59)

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