Kitselas’ Mel Bevan was the first recipient of UNBC’s Elder in Residence program on the Terrace campus, in which he became a regular speaker in sessions scheduled over four weeks.
Twenty-two people gathered in Room 103 on April 11 to hear Bevan, who also holds the Simoogit name Sa-tzan, speak on the Tsimshian language for the program’s second instalment.
“But what I’m calling it is the language of the lower Skeena because the word ‘Tsimshian’ itself doesn’t mean ‘language’ but a location,” Bevan said, who is a fluent speaker himself. He explained that there are books written about the Tsimshian that divide it into three branches, the Nisga’a, the Gitxsan and the Tsimshian.
However, even though they are similar in some ways, they are not the same language and are each used differently.
“There is actually no such thing, I don’t know where that came from,” Bevan said with a laugh. “I don’t know who wrote that book.”
He has been an active leader in Kitselas for nearly a half-century and has served as chief councillor, band manager, and chief treaty negotiator. Currently he is working on organizing several books filled with translations of the Tsimshian language from William Beynon, a hereditary chief of the Tsimshian nation who worked as an oral historian from 1915 to 1956.
Bevan explained that it’s one thing to learn about the language and culture, but another to actually live and experience it.
“It is important because living it is different than learning about it,” he said. “If you lived it, it’s hardwired into you.”
Normally held in Prince George, the elder-in-residence program was brought to the Terrace campus to further expand the program’s outreach.
Bruce Bidgood, associate professor at the northwest regional campus, said the sessions provide an opportunity for people with different levels of understanding to come and learn together in one place.
“It really provides an opportunity for two ways of knowing to come together for the benefit of all,” Bidgood said.
Bidgood said he first met Bevan when he was running for MLA in 2017, going door to door in Kitselas with MP Nathan Cullen. As they went by Bevan’s house, they were invited inside for hot tea boiling over the fire in his backyard.
“We sat around for hours, talking about stories and what was important to Kitselas people,” Bidgood said. “If the weather had been a nicer friend we could have had one of the sessions at Mel’s house around the fire pot, but we still have snow.”
The next and last session will be on May 9 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at the UNBC Northwest campus.