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Salish Sea Sentinel | December 14, 2018

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‘Sing your songs loud and proud’: Kespahl aims to enrich Tla’amin culture for youth

‘Sing your songs loud and proud’: Kespahl aims to enrich Tla’amin culture for youth

Above: Drew Blaney (Kespahl), right, stands with Tla͛amin Hegus Clint Williams. File photo.

By Edith Moore, NmTC communications liaison

At 25 years old, Tla’amin member Drew Blaney (Kespahl) is a champion of his culture. Blaney grew up learning from his grandmother, the late Mabel Galligos. He can often be found in his community supporting language revitalization, drumming and singing songs or participating in canoe journeys. More recently, Blaney became Tla’amin’s new culture and heritage manager. The Sentinel asked Blaney some questions about his influences and new role.

The Sentinel: Your Tla’amin name is Kespahl, tell me more about that.
Blaney: The name was given to me by the Tla’amin elders in 1998. This included Agnes Mcgee, Katherine Blaney, Mary George, Dave and Annie Dominic, Elsie Paul, Emily Francis & my grandparents Bob & Elizabeth Blaney amongst other elders. This name was given to my father, Darin Blaney when he was a young boy. It is a name his grandmother would call him.

Who is your biggest mentor?
I don’t really have just one mentor. I spent a lot of time with the elders of my community when I was growing up and they had a big influence on me. I had spent a lot of time travelling with these elders on the annual B.C. Elders Gathering trips, listening to them speak the language and tell stories.

For singing, it wasn’t until 2007 when Tla’amin was hosting the Kwakwaka’wakw & Bella Coola people during a stopover for the Paddle to Lummi. William Wasden Jr. (Wa) was paddling with his relatives from Port Hardy, and when they began their protocol I was amazed because I had never heard such a powerful man and group perform their songs and dances.

When it was our turn to perform for our guests, we really didn’t have much to offer, maybe a song or two. This motivated me to start composing songs in our language, and trying to find songs in museums and archives around the world. We were lucky enough to be left 16 songs by my great-great grandfather who recorded these songs with Frances Densemore in 1926 while in the hop-fields in Chilliwack. We revived these old songs and composed many more to add to our handful of songs and these songs are now being sung loud and proud amongst the Tla’amin people and I am so happy about that!

What inspires you?
My inspiration for what I do comes from our young people. When you see the young kids dancing out on the floor, picking up the drum and singing proudly. It makes me feel great about the work I do and it gives me hope for the future.

Tell me about your new role as Culture and Heritage Manager for Tla’amin.
I am hoping to revive aspects of our culture that are still missing or asleep in our community. The longhouse and race canoe, for example. But I am also happy to expand on the programs that we already had. Bringing in more carvers to broaden our knowledge of carving, pulling in more families to participate in weekly Culture Nights and encouraging our people to speak our language by having language immersion programs. We have started all of these programs, over the last month and the community has definitely embraced it as we have had a great number of people participating.

What are some upcoming projects you are working on?
There are a lot of amazing events happening in Tla’amin over the next couple of years that I am happy to be working on. The biggest being Tribal Journey in 2021 where we expect to host 100 canoes and upwards of 6000 people. I am also hoping to have our longhouse constructed by that time so we can have a place to share our songs and dances with our guests. We will also be hosting another canoe journey in 2019 so stay tuned for an announcement regarding that canoe journey.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
It’s time for the younger generation to step up and be the leaders that I know you can be. Visit the elders. Learn their stories, hear about how hard they had to work to get to where we are today. And honour these elders, honour our past, make our ancestors proud.

If you are ever struggling in life turn to your culture as it will never disappoint you. If you are feeling sad go and collect yourself by the water. Do your morning baths to cleanse your spirit. Sing your songs loud and proud, it will bring you out of your darkness.