We have worked closely with Welsh Government to support artistic projects as part of UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages during 2019. One of the projects we funded enabled Worldcub, who had been selected to showcase at BreakOut West Festival to also perform and meet with a First Nation community in Yukon through a partnership between BreakOut West and FOCUS Wales.
We asked Dion Hamer from the band to tell us more about their trip:
“In October 2019, we travelled to Whitehorse, Canada to take part in BreakOut West Festival & Conference, the first international showcase festival for us to perform at. We had been invited by FOCUS Wales to perform two shows. The first was a showcase in the festival itself, for which the venue was at full capacity and the audience was made up of delegates from all over the world. The second performance was an opportunity to link with the UNSECO International Year of Indigenous Languages, which resulted in FOCUS Wales and BreakOut West arranging a visit for us to meet with musicians and leading figures in the Carcross/Tagish First Nation community in Yukon, for what was to be a unique opportunity for us to participate in a special gathering in celebration of language and music.
It was an early start on the morning of the trip to Yukon and we woke up to a fair few inches of snow, but seen as we’d be riding in two large SUVs we were still confident of getting there in time for the celebrations. As we made our way, the conditions worsened and one vehicle got stuck in deep snow. More worryingly, whilst we had stopped, our guitarist Carwyn spotted a grizzly bear at the side of the road a few yards behind us! Eventually, with haste, we managed to dig the vehicle out and pressed on to Carcross, arriving there with our lives intact.
We were welcomed with a prayer by Elder Geraldine James soon after we arrived at the Learning Centre, which was then followed by a ‘Smudging’ Ceremony, cleansing ourselves in the smoke of burning sage and sweetgrass with the help of the Elder’s huge raven wing fan. Standing in a circle, everyone was invited to open up and introduce themselves, the Elder spoke of their struggle, the fight to save their heritage and language from extinction, the others then added to what was quite a difficult and sad picture of their past and present. It was our turn next, as we spoke a bit about the history of the Welsh language, the use of the ‘Welsh Not’ to stigmatise and punish children using Welsh in schools in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. I think everyone noticed the parallels between what we had discussed. Despite discussing such heavy subjects, we ended on the positive note that things have changed dramatically in Wales, which was seen as a hope for them.
We were invited to perform, surrounded by totems and artefacts from different clans. We played some Welsh language songs - which are by no means traditional - but were warmly received by the crowd. Following us on stage was Gary Johnson, a member of the Dak`laweidí clan with a Killer Whale crest, dressed in traditional attire. He was the only clan member who could speak the indigenous language of Tlingit. He gave us a lesson in how to pronounce words and sentences and then went on to perform for us.
It was an honour to share the stage with Gary Johnson and share stories about our languages. It’s important to shine a light on the struggles a lot of indigenous languages have endured. It’s a sad fact that if you delve deeper into the history of some minority languages, you’ll find some sad and disturbingly difficult stories. With all Worldcub members speaking Welsh as a first language, it hit home how persecution is still ongoing in some parts of the world, but it was great to see how passionately dedicated they are to continue to fight for their heritage and language. We learnt a lot from the day and we definitely had a lot of stories to tell back home.
We were so unbelievably fortunate to have visited the Learning Centre in Carcross, learning about the history of the people in the community and joining in their traditions. We owe a huge thanks to our funders and are grateful to FOCUS Wales and BreakOut West for arranging our trip to meet the First Nations community (and for getting us there through heavy snow, grizzly bears, and making sure we got back home alive!).”