Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Reason...

When I was very young – 5 or 6 years old – my grandfather Chris was everything to me. My father was out in the world trying to make a difference for our futures. My mother had four little ones under foot, including me. I was the eldest and most independent. I couldn't wait for the bell to ring, so I could stop at my grandfather's house on the way home. He represented my little world. When I crossed the threshold of his back door; I was home. He treated me like a little adult, he liked his tea time and he liked his tea buns... He wanted me to put the water on and later would allow me to use the stove. I would get the milk out, I still remember the package, Palm Dairy - Homogenized... He also stored his winter fruit, strawberries, raspberries, logan berries and fish in those milk cartons. When we had tea, not much was said. It was the routine and the visit, there was no other place I wanted to be...

Some days I would walk in and he would give me the shhhh, signal... meaning he was recording language. He had a personal Sony cassette recorder with a mic that would plug in the side. I was responsible for being quiet once he pressed the play and record buttons together, and handing him a fresh tape when he needed it. Some days I would arrive and he would be singing songs and drumming on an ice-cream pail. This was my favorite. I can still hear his voice... He died the spring of 1976. He is the reason I live directly behind his little house today, where he lived for his entire life and for the remainder of his days. He was desperate to leave his knowledge behind. Like so many Elders before him and after him. This is something I now understand at age 44. To me he was everything and to many he was gramps...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Kitchen Table

The building we work in is a late 1960s, early 1970s, mobile classroom. Single pane windows and wood panel interior walls. It is obvious the room was made for little children. Everything is lower and smaller. The windows on the West side of the building are covered most of the time. At first, it seemed crazy to have them covered, but as time went on into spring and summer, we discovered that the heat and the strong sun made it unbearable to work in the building. There is a built-in fan on the North side of the building. Our hope was to have it circulate air, but there has been a family of birds living there. We didn’t have the heart to remove them, and it's kind of nice to hear the baby birds anyway... ...for the first hour. The floor has a bit of a hump in it; we are good as long as you keep the chairs on castors at the workstations and not in the middle of the room. Fluorescent light, a couple that need more than bulbs changed, and a leak that mostly hits the bucket when it’s raining hard. Some of these things, or a combination of these things, had the potential to make your heart sink. Where do you start? Here we are working with Elders on such important work. The least we could do is make them comfortable and feel valued. But what seemed like a huge deficiency, the Elders never made mention of or complained about. I am sure they have seen better and worse…

The table and chairs did not work; they were too low to work at for hours at a time, especially for Elders. We set out to locate comfortable chairs. We received a donation from a medical office that was closing its doors due to retirement. The only thing we needed now was a table that would suit our needs. I am a firm believer that we do our best work at the kitchen table. It is also a strong belief that we learn our language at home and at the kitchen table with our family. I somehow talked my wife into allowing me to use a very rustic kitchen table she had built years before. I thought it had character and many important things took place around the table, including raising her son and, more recently, my son...

On the West side above the windows are many photos of Saanich Elders that have been carefully mounted. Many of the Elders in the pictures have since passed... It is tradition to cover photos of the ones that have passed recently. When I look to the pictures I am sometimes saddened. All the good people, the burdens they must have carried trying to ensure the next generation had the knowledge and culture passed on through them to all our families in our community. One thing I can be certain of is that, as we work, they are not too far away. The Elders ask that we light a candle to start our day and put it out at the end of our day. ... And our Saanich Elders, who sacrificed for us, watch over our kitchen table.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Early Days

Spring 2005. I began to observe the group I would spend the most one-on-one time with throughout the course of the project. The Elders, Elder Support-Community Recorder, and Researcher had been proofreading material for some time at this stage. It was obvious from my perspective that the task was not very enjoyable for them; it was more of a chore. I asked if they could share with me how they do their work. Some discussion ensued. They felt there was a timeline present that they were racing to. So, the process they were working in felt hurried and uncomfortable. It was not that they did not enjoy what they were working on, it was clear that they were being subjected to the University way of doing things. Again, not that this process does not have its place; it just does not have its place with Elders. I suggested they create their own process. I asked what would they do differently if they could. They felt the key element they needed was time for discussion to make an agreement on a word, sentence, phrase and the translation from SENĆOŦEN to satisfactory English. Knowing that they had the power to make what at first seemed like unreasonable demands, opened up the process to a more enjoyable and productive environment. Most words, sentences and phrases were simply proofread and agreed upon, others created discussion, recollection and then agreement.

Working with the Elders and their Community Recorder had to be the most rewarding experience I have taken away from my time as the Saanich-CURA Coordinator. I have known the Elders throughout my life from a distance. It was a very intimidating feeling knowing I would be working so closely with them throughout the project. Mainly, I did not want to let them down in anyway. In a contemporary setting, they may have considered me their manager or, as they put it, "our young boss" ... I made it clear from the beginning that I was not their boss, but rather someone who gets them what they need... It was this attention to creating an environment of respect that gained almost immediate trust, a trust I would never take for granted.

The group in the main room works on a much different level from the Elders and the Community Recorder in the old mobile. The Elder that leads this group is a language authority for the Saanich people, through agreements with the four Saanich Bands, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum and Pauquachin, and the Saanich Indian School Board as the educational voice for the community. He knows every aspect of his subject and can be writing and arranging very complex material most days. My view from looking in from the outside is that he is a crucial key to providing the much needed building blocks and curriculum framework for the next generation of SENĆOŦEN teachers, learners and parents, while paying heed to contemporary material formats. His vision is clear. He collaborates with a linguist from the University of Victoria Linguistics Department and a Junior Research Assistant. The environment they work in, although set in the Saanich community, feels quite similar to a university lab in its organization and productivity. An interesting note: The building they work in is one of the first Catholic-built and -controlled schools in the community, and has since been taken back, as the Elders would say... The Elders have also expressed to me over time that that building was where some of their peers had their SENĆOŦEN language taken out of them. Today the Old School stands as a constant reminder...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Saanich-Elders (Sample) Schedule 2005-2006

It was thought that the best method to start the project was by first inviting the Elders and project participants to an orientation session to introduce everyone in the group to the suggested schedules. When the Elders were invited to the session it was met with awkward silence and perplexed looks. First, they wanted to know whose idea this meeting was, and, second, why would they need an orientation meeting: "We are all almost 80 years old... I think we know what we should be doing by now... " So, this idea was quickly discarded.

Elders' Schedule 2005-2006

Schedules were prepared for each project when approved work plans were completed, but schedules were not followed to the letter or as written. Instead, all the project participants followed Elder-led routines. In most cases, the Elders' routines exceeded the weekly hour allocation. It should also be noted that when the Elders and project participants are working on material and they are on a roll, they do not want to stop. One, it takes time and effort to find this place where the material flows easily and, two, they feel they may not be able to remember the next day; or, if the next day is a day off, again there is a chance of forgetting.

*Note: The "quarter heading" in the sample below was meant as a simple reference to track the schedule and budget allocation. I did this as a reminder for myself more than anything, to keep me on track.

Activity: September 2005–March 2006, 2 days per week, 5 hours per day: Translation of SENĆOŦEN to satisfactory English.

2nd Quarter

September 2005 (8 days) 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, 29

3rd Quarter

October 2005 (8 days) 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20, 25, 27

November 2005 (9 days) 1, 3, 8, 10, 15, 17, 22, 24, 29

December 2005 (9 days) 1, 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, 29

4th Quarter

January 2006 (7 days) 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26, 31

February 2006 (8 days) 2, 7, 9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 28,

March 2006 (9 days) 2, 7, 9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 28, 30

Monday, April 6, 2009

The SENĆOŦEN Speaker Training- Project Outline

The SENĆOŦEN Speaker Training Project is an intermediate workshop designed to meet the need for training the next generation of formal cultural and longhouse public speakers.

The goal is to bring together trainees that possess sufficient knowledge pertaining to the protocol and etiquettes of celebrations, funerals and naming-ceremonies, in addition to the cultural business affairs of the community. The workshop will build upon this knowledge and provide participants with direct mentorship and instruction to prepare them to move into community practice.

SENĆOŦEN Digitizing Existing Audio Materials

The Saanich community has been recording language for many years. There exist privately-held recordings of fluent SENĆOŦEN speakers that require transferring from the original analog source to digital conversions.

The source of original material was recorded in a variety of formats including cassette tapes, reel-to-reel and possibly audio from early video tapes and film. Many of the fluent speakers that appear on the source materials have since passed away.

The idea for this project is to create an innovative framework that will demonstrate the integrity and spirit of the community’s audio language materials while ensuring the preservation of these materials for future generations.