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Culture alive: food, dance and stories

Storyteller Phil Umpherville captivated an audience when some Comox Valley Secondary school students accepted an invitation to the K’ómoks Big House. - Photo by Renee Andor
Storyteller Phil Umpherville captivated an audience when some Comox Valley Secondary school students accepted an invitation to the K’ómoks Big House.
— image credit: Photo by Renee Andor

Some Comox Valley secondary students got a taste of K’ómoks First Nation culture during an event last week at the Big House.

A handful of students from Mark R. Isfeld, Highland and Vanier secondary schools joined students from the Nala’atsi program and First Nations elders at the K’ómoks Big House.

“It’s a chance for the aboriginal community, and the students and community members to share the culture of the K’ómoks people (and) to enjoy a meal, and the dance, and the celebrations in the welcoming environment of the Big House,” said event organizer and Nala’atsi teacher Toresa Crawford.

The event started with a welcome and traditional dance performance led by Andy Everson and David Dawson, and featuring a handful of Kumugwe Dancers.

Phil Umpherville, who is Woodland Cree First Nation and moved to the Valley more than 20 years ago, gave a blessing before a huge spread of traditional food was served for lunch.

Cora Beddows, who is from the Kwakiutl band in Fort Rupert, brought raw and fried oolichans (small fish), oolichan oil, dried seaweed and smoked salmon to give the youth a taste of traditional food. Cory Frank performed a salmon barbecue and pit cook, and dried bison was available for students to try.

Beddows said students seemed to love the food and she was surprised at how many of them tasted the more interesting fare, such as oolichans.

Umpherville, who often tells stories to students in the Comox Valley Aboriginal Head Start program, followed lunch with a story about three young hunters who didn’t honour hunting traditions and were turned into thunderbirds before being saved.

“It’s about traditions. It’s about native beliefs,” Umpherville said. “How important it is to honour those traditions in those days as a hunter-gatherer society.

“It’s a little bit more about the native spirituality, or the beliefs, mythology, and it gives me an opportunity to explain some of the ceremonies like the shaking tent ceremony that native people had.”

Because the Big House won’t fit all secondary school students in the Comox Valley, organizers choose a few students from each school per year. For example, an English 10 First Peoples class from Vanier, Isfeld’s BC First Nations studies 12 class and a leadership class from Highland, were invited this year, plus Nala’atsi students.

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