Haida Gwaii PGI a success!

  • Jun. 9, 2014 12:00 p.m.

Submitted by Being Favreau–Two days of sharing – sharing of knowledge, songs, music, readings, laughter and food, all in celebration of lifelong learning. Literacy Haida Gwaii’s PGI events this year were held in Port and Queen Charlotte with special invited guests Robert Davidson, Reg Davidson, Ben Davidson, CBC radio host Shelagh Rogers and harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens. Port mayor Wally Cheer, welcomed guests at the benefit dinner on May 23. Frank and Denise Russ catered the delicious Haida meal. Reg and Robert blessed the evening with their singing of the Paddle Song, preparing all participants for a joyous ride on our literacy canoe journey over the weekend.Besides delicious food, guests were entertained by a fabulous play by the students of Port school. They sang, danced and acted to thunderous applause. Kudos to teacher Josina Davis who spent hours rehearsing with the students. Other performers included Dominic Legault, who shared his original music composition through his accordion, and harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens’ unforgettable performance accompanied by Pat Fairweather. At the dinner, Fraser Ellis Foundation and Literacy Haida Gwaii acknowledged a number of invited guests who have in their own special ways, promoted literacy and lifelong learning. Official acknowledgement went to Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw for their creation of the very first Haida play on the island; Jenny Nelson for her wonderful poems and stories; Betty Dalzell, a devoted island historian who documented the most comprehensive reference of Haida Gwaii; Berry Wijdeven for his cartoons depicting island life; Sandra Price for quilting her stories on fabric; Neil Carey for publishing his story about his life as a homesteader and his exploration of the entire island’s coastline; Kara Sievewright who has published a graphic novel about Haida Gwaii; Chief Gitska who published paintings and shared his stories through the poles he carved; Goetz and Elizabeth Inkster who have individually published their own music compositions. Literacy is not just words; it evolves art, stories, music, history and much more.The Saturday PGI event was held in Queen Charlotte where councillors Greg Martin and Leslie Johnson not only welcomed the guests but hosted our afternoon event. That featured CBC radio’s Shelagh Rogers’ intimate interview with Haida artists Robert, Reg and Ben Davidson. It was the first time that two generations of Haida artists – older brother Robert and younger brother Reg together with Robert’s son Ben appeared on stage together for an interview. They talked about Haida poles being a way of transferring past knowledge. Their interview with Shelagh was enlightening. Part of the event included the announcement of the winner of the Fraser Ellis writing contest. Wendy Watt won and presented her winning story ‘Slices’. Kudos to the following musicians who shared stories with us through their songs – Terri-Lynn who performed two beautiful Haida songs accompanied by Charley Robertson on the guitar and Wendy Watts with her compositions accompanied by Mike Stevens and Pat Fairweather, and two duets between Mike and Pat. The PGI finally wrapped up with our Learner Achievement Award ceremony. Gladys Vandal and Terri Russ each received the Literacy Haida Gwaii achievement award certificate with $100 cash. James Wilson received the Haida Gwaii PGI award plaque with $200 cash donated by Fraser Ellis Foundation. There are only 14 recipients across Canada who are awarded this top achievement, one at each PGI site. Thanks to each of these winners who worked so hard throughout the year in achieving their personal learning goals.PGI for Literacy was founded by Peter Gzowski who believed that a poet must have the last word at every PGI. Shelagh Rogers was our invited poet laureate this year, which meant she needed to take part in all the events over the two days and then write about them. The audience all agreed Shelagh has earned her deserved title of poet laureate with her thoughtful delivery of her written poem “Circling Literacy”. Her poem has been transcribed below and it can be viewed on youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqnj52v_KWU. Over the two days, Literacy Haida Gwaii raised $25,000 through on- and off-island sponsorships as well as community donations, an increase of $7,000 from last year’s PGI. The money will be used on the islands to continue supporting adult, youth and family literacy programs. They include free tutoring support for adults wanting to upgrade their adult Dogwood, improve on essential workplace skills and computer knowledge; homework club support for teens; seniors’ computer classes; authors’ visits to schools to promote learning and reading, free monthly book program for children under 5, as well as free literacy related workshops for families and island service providers.It takes a community to work together. The past weekend clearly demonstrated that many hands from various communities can work together to support literacy, to promote learning and sharing. Just as Shelagh said in her poem, our circle is becoming bigger and stronger. Literacy Haida Gwaii is deeply grateful to be part of this strong circle. Our learners thank you for your support. Circling Literacya poem written and presented by Shelagh Rogers at the Haida Gwaii PGIWe are welcomed to Haida Gwaii with a paddle song, Ancient words sung to the beat of the drum,Reg and Robert Davidson shared the song and gave us a new memory.We are fed, in so many ways, By art and stories,By kids singing while they drive a two dimensional car.We are fed by halibut, salmon, crab and soap berries, By people who put love into their casseroles and cakes.Mike Stevens, the harmonica player, teacher and great human says, One of the things he loves about Haida Gwaii is that no one goes hungry here. You feed each other.By his words and music, again, we are fed.There’s a dog at the doorway of the Port Clements Community Hall, watching it all. He is not fed though, but it’s tempting.What is it that is making me feel so full here?I think it is being a witness to generosity and hospitality that is centuries old.I love the root of the word “witness”.It comes from the old English word “inwit” which means to have a clean heart. But what does it mean to actually be a witness? Being so receptive to the truth that your thinking is altered and your heart is opened. Maybe this was the very first kind of open heart surgery. Being a witness to people like Gladys and Terri and James,Listening deeply to help carry their story, To be a keeper of their story and to share it so widely it will always stand up for the truth.Anyone who has heard a survivor speak about residential school becomes a witness.At the PGI last year here, we heard Chief Ron Wilson, a survivor, say that education is everything, We witnessed that. And last night I learned that his sister Barb, also a survivor, is working on her Masters degree. Education is everything. And hearing her story, I was fed and honored to carry her good news.Haida Gwaii is a place that feeds us. Last year I met a proud Haida grandfather and businessman named Arnie Bellis.He spoke at an aboriginal business gathering and said,”My grandchildren will grow up never having heard Queen Charlotte Islands. It will always be Haida Gwaii to them – Islands of the People.”Words are important. There is so much in a word. Language is the key to ideas in a culture and there’s magic in the original languages. I have experienced this even as a waabishikwe, Which is my ojibwe name and it translates to “white woman”. Here is a story about that magic.I am on a conference on depression, something I am very familiar with,And there was a Blackfoot healer named Leo Bastien. He says his language gives him access to healing that English does not. He asks us to close our eyes. He says some words in his language. I hear an eagle call. I see my father who had died two weeks before and it bothered me so much that I did not get to say good bye. But in my closed eye vision, dad said “not to worry about that as I will always be here so why should you say goodbye?”When I opened my eyes, Leo Bastien was gone. Later I asked people what happened to them when they closed their eyes. Everyone I talked to, from neurosurgeons to researchers to lawyers to teachers, had seen someone they had lost. Powerful medicine right inside the language. The language builds the stories.Your stories told in song and dance and art and carvings,Totem poles as Robert Davidson said “that totem was a way of transferring knowledge”.I will never forget the story and significance that we heard today about the Massett totem and the year 1969. For telling stories like in the Massett totem igniting memories of stories, songs and dances to be told anew by people like Terri-Lynn and Reg and Ben. Something beautiful is happening here and you know, I see circles.There’s a circle that’s getting bigger and stronger. The circle of stories passed on, from one generation to another and retold around a table or a campfire that is a circle.The circle of a plate with wonderful food from here, the circle of a drum that welcomed us last night. The circle of a fishing net, the circumference of a tree that will be a totem pole carved by Ben Davidson. A hug is a circle. Elder Delores Davis told me, “we are huggers here on Haida Gwaii and hugging lowers your blood pressure.” She’s cut her medication in half. A golf ball is a sphere, so it’s a 3D circle.The PGI started with a golf ball so it has brought us here together to complete the circle. You’ve made the circle bigger and stronger and we are fed.