Day trip to Ditidaht a dilly

Where the heck is Ditidaht, you ask? Why, check the map! It’s a small native village right there on the shores of Nitinat Lake, about an hour’s drive west of Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island. The main access is via a private logging road, not serviced in the winter months, so the village is quite isolated. In heavy rains, the road is flooded. However, it was a beautiful sunny day when a group of folks from the Write to Read Project journeyed over to enjoy a visit and check out the village’s request for a library.

Ditidaht is one of three closely related languages forming the south Wakashan sub-group of the Wakashan language family. Their American relatives across the Strait of Juan de Fuca live around Neah Bay in Washington State and speak Makah. Their neighbours living northwest from Pacheena Point speak Westcoast (also called Nuu-chah-nulh, but formerly called Nootka). No matter how you spell it, Ditidaht is remote.

Visitors arrived late in the day, just in time to settle into rooms at the motel and the “teacherage,” a six-plex of town houses where the teachers live. It was a 2-minute walk to the Community Hall, where a giant feast was laid out for the entire village (and visitors) to enjoy.

Visitors were welcomed by drumming, dancing and a welcome speech. The dances were led by the children, supported by male drummers. Afterwards, the kids posed for a group photo, with some making the usual silly faces for the camera. Freshly-harvested crab was the highlight of the feast, after which Write to Read project coordinator Bob Blacker got up to give a few words of thanks for the invitation to visit.

Formerly the Lt. Governor of the Province of British Columbia, Steven then shared some stories and advice to the children in attendance about the importance of reading. His story about Wiley Coyote was well received.

The highlight of the next day was a meeting with the chief and band officers at the band council office, where discussions were held about the possibility of bringing a library to the village. There are several options, one of which is to bring a modular building donated by Britco Structures of Langley, the main sponsor of the Write to Read Project to date. Another option might be to renovate the old school building, currently sitting empty. Talks were held about possible ways to bring new economic development to the village in the future, perhaps through eco-tourism.

The Write to Read group went to insect the old school building. Architect Scott Kemp, who has donated much of his time and skill to the W2R project to date, made a brief inspection and ventured his opinion that it was quite possible to upgrade the old school into a library.

Next up was a visit to the new school, where all the students assembled in the school gym to meet with Steven Point. Write to Read publicist Michael McCarthy spoke to the students about the Digital Diary project. He donated a professional quality camera to the high school class, with instructions that the kids should shoot photos of their lives in the village for future publication in a book.

It was an all-too-brief visit to the village, but the quick trip proved that a library of some sort, whether a modular Britco building or a renovation of the old school, is a project that can and should be done.

With kite boarding, wind surfing, canoeing, hiking and kayaking available around Nitinat lake, the Ditidaht region is an excellent location for the promotion of eco-tourism in the future.

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