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Salish Sea Sentinel | November 16, 2018

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Students, elders connected through poetry

Students, elders connected through poetry

By Cara McKenna

High school students Amos Harris and Isobel Smith each held one of Stz’uminus Elder Buffy David’s hands as they walked across the stage of the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on April 4.

The Ladysmith Secondary students wrote a poem about David’s life as part of the Elder Project—an ongoing effort that has been connecting Canadian students with local elders and each other through poetry.

David sat beside the podium smiling while the two students read their poem.

“I lived in Kulleet Bay for 59 years, in a house on stilts with lots of windows, beautiful wooden floors and a fireplace,” Harris read aloud about David, laughing with the elder as he read the next line.

“I remember my dad saying ‘even the cow knows when to come home,’ if we were ever late. We always played in the woods: we played ho’ho’s at Paddy Aleck’s. We played in the forest and played down the beach.”

Smith continued: “I remember eating traditional food with my family…I love drumming, I love to cook, sing and speak Hul’q’umi’num.”

books of indigenous poetryThe Elder Project was started in 2010 by renowned poet Wendy Morton, who has partnered with various school districts and agencies on the project—it has come to School District 68 three times over the past year.

The result is three books of poetry: Every Word Has a Spirit, One Wingspan at a Time and The Rivers Where We Sing.

The books were launched during an event where many students read their poetry aloud to the public and to those they wrote about.

For the first and third books, students wrote poems about elders who told them about notable times in their lives. Many spoke about residential school, their careers and early childhood memories.

For the second book, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students interviewed each other.

Anne Tenning, who works in Indigenous education for School District 68, said the launch event had been highly anticipated by the community.

“These stories tell us about resilience, they tell us about hope, they tell us about our history and our culture,” she said. “It’s so beautiful to see all the students and elders who have been honoured by the creation of these poems.”

More information about the project, including PDF copies of poetry books, can be found at