August 20, 2007

History and The Paddle Song

Sḵwxwú7mesh version

u nu halh7 meli
chesha7 ta chilh siyam
en stli7 kwis tsixwntumulh
ta ni ta stelmexw

English version of song
You are the only one
mother of Christ thy king
have mercy on us all
on all us human being

Literal translation
Oh you are the good person
mother of the higher spirit[1]
I want you to have mercy/pitty on us
the human beings[2]

1-The word chilh siyam was a post-contact created word. chilh means "higher" and siyam means "respected being or person". Thus the implying is "Higher Spirit". This word differs from kexe7nek siyam, our name for the Creator.

2-stelmexw translates to "Indigenous" in modern translation, but many language experts say the word really means "human". As the Indigenous were the only humans around, it makes sense we would call us that. It now means "Indigenous", but sometimes it's also used to human.

Religious assimilation has a important role in Skwxwu7mesh language study, both as historical residue and decolonization. This song in particular has clear in it's Christianity flavor. After contact, one of the first Catholic churches was built in eslah7an. In the late 1800's many hymnns were translated from English to Skwxwu7mesh to better assimilate my people. Many people were converted and now remains numerous texts of Catholic hymns in Skwxwu7mesh.

This song above is particularlly famous because of two reasons. The first is because of Chief Dan George who recorded the song on a vynal record decades ago. It was able to be remembered and learned for future generations. The other reason, is what I want to look at.

On June 3rd, 1886, what was a small town of Vancouver, quickly caught fire and the city was set ablaze. With the other significant population being the Indigenous village on the opposite side of the city (Eslah7an), my great great grandmother stepped in her canoe and paddled to the city to save the people that couldn't get out. As she took the leader of a caravan of other canoes, she sang this song praying for the people in the city. That they would be safe and still alive.

Little of this history tidbit is remembered. Mentioned at a glance.

The title of "Paddle song" comes from this history. The song does not mention a paddle or paddling anywhere. No, it's a Christian-Catholic prayer to Mary.

Not only is my usual attitude to decolonization when it comes to Christian iconography or paradym, but this is a real example of how we perpetuate the conditioned beliefs. Even if we don't believe in or follow the Catholic religion, many of my people still sing this song. At events, at funerals, at community celebrations. All because it's a Skwxwu7mesh song with Skwxwu7mesh history.

I refuse to sing this song.

The idea of taking a stand on this is to create dialogue. If I take the simple step and say, "No, I won't sing that song." People will ask why. This is apart of decolonization. We have to struggle (we being the younger people, or even the people who understand), to create a path for the next generation. This is what the old timers did. This is what our predecessors did. And the struggle is not over. If we get a 9-5 job. If we have a salary. If we shop at the tax-free mall. We must still keep our Indigenous outlook on the world, and strive to reclaim that outlook. Decolonization.


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