Marilyn Furlan

Haisla Homecoming: Elders will be on hand to connect generations

The Haisla Homecoming begins on August 10 and there will be family trees for people to connect with their families.

There once was a man in the Kitlope Valley who was being groomed by his elders to be a hunter.

Except he was impatient, and wanted to go off on his own, despite not being told he could by his elders.

“You wait for your elders before you do anything. And he didn’t. He wanted to go hunting on his own,”” says Marilyn Furlan, telling the story of the man who turned to stone.

Caught in the Kitlope’s notoriously heavy fog, the man sat with his three dogs waiting for the air to clear.

Except while he sat, he turned to stone, and his three dogs wandered away.

“The moral of that story is, you always listen to your elders,” said Furlan. “Always listen to your elders.”

The value of elders in the Haisla community can’t be overstated. With the First Nation community still in some ways impacted by residential schools, elders are an immensely valuable source of traditional knowledge, including the Haisla language which has been slowly forgotten by the new generation.

It’s that which provides some of the backdrop for the return of the Haisla Homecoming, which was once a regular celebration and get together of Haisla people and surrounding communities, to reconnect with their culture and heritage.

“Because of residential schools some of them never came home again, and some of them are coming back for the celebration of getting together once again after so many years. So many don’t know our Ne’um, our story,” said Furlan.

But come August 9, many will return, and reconnect to family they may have lost.

Furlan said they will have family trees on display in the Elder Centre, allowing people to trace their family history.

There are many stories that are yet to be told. Furlan herself has stories from her great-great-grandmother, Annie Paul, who, she said, lived to 114.

“I asked her how do you know when your birthday was,” she said about Annie Paul, when she was then 99.

The answer was she knew when she was born because she was born when “the berries were ripe” — meaning sometime in June or July — and the family travelled frequently by canoe to Seattle, and she could keep up with the news of the day on those trips.

“Paddling to Seattle would take two weeks, and the times during the World Wars, there would be a lot of  war ships on patrol,” said Furlan, relating her family’s story.

“They [the Haisla] need to know stories like that,” she said.

The elders’ role at the Homecoming will not only connect people to their family, but also to cultural traditions. They’ll be cooking a variety of food, like fried breads, and Furlan said the elders who will be making the food are “the best bakers.”

Language will also be another important aspect of the homecoming, and elders who speak Haisla will help share the language to those who haven’t learned.

The number in Kitamaat Village itself who can speak fluent Haisla is shrinking. She said there had been around 126, but as of 2012 there are only 119.

Yet thanks to social media, Furlan said there is a generation of Haisla who are connecting, and just dying to learn more about the past.

Back to the man who turned to stone, who now dots the landscape in the Kitlope Valley, Furlan said that when the wind blows a certain way, it “sounds like [his] dogs calling back.”

This weekend, the wind in Kitamaat Village will be blowing, and the children of the Haisla territory will be calling back.