Grade 11 student Ava Duff shows a group of Ripple Rock Elementary students the model of her house she made for them to virtually “walk through” and learn the Kwakwala words for everything inside.

Grade 11 student Ava Duff shows a group of Ripple Rock Elementary students the model of her house she made for them to virtually “walk through” and learn the Kwakwala words for everything inside.

Students share in the learning of Kwakwala

As with many of the great ideas in the world, this one started with a “What if…?”

“I just kind of thought, ‘what if we started a buddy project with another school?’” says Keisha Everson, who teaches Carihi’s Kwakwala/Liqwala program. She’s looking around a bustling Ripple Rock Elementary library at her students teaching Kwakwala to Grade 4 and 5 students there.

“Language is so important in this world – and especially for First Nations’ culture – and it’s so important for people who are learning something to also teach it to others, so I thought it would be really great to make that part of their final project last year.”

So she pitched her idea to Carihi administration, along with Greg Johnson, district principal of aboriginal education and alternate programs, and everyone immediately hopped on board. The Carihi kids each created a project to share with the younger students in a one-day “show and tell” kind of experience near the end of last school year.

“And it went so well,” she says, “I thought we should step it up.”

So this year, the Carihi Kwakwala/Liqwala class has been visiting Ripple Rock to work with Tara Mellstrom’s Grade 4/5 kids twice a month.

So what do they get out of this partnership?

“Well, first of all, it’s fun,” Everson says. “But also puts onus on them to complete their projects and get their work done, because there’s the responsibility that, hey, we’re going to Ripple Rock on this date and your work has to be done.”

It also means they need to step up their game not only in terms of the timeliness of their work, but also the quality, Everson says.

“They really have to know what they’re doing, because they’re being expected to be able to come in and actually teach it to younger students, so it helps put that extra responsibility on them. I really like that piece of it.

“And I love seeing the change that happens with them when they walk into Ripple Rock,” Everson continues. “I’ve seen it with all the buddy groups I’ve brought over here. The way they talk, the way they stand, the way they respond to others, it all changes. They become adults in that instant because they know what they’re here for and they take that responsibility seriously. It’s really a remarkable thing to see. I’m always humbled by their willingness to be such positive role models for the younger students.”

On Monday last week, the Carihi students went over to Ripple Rock for their final presentation of their work this semester.

“These are all things they’ve created as activities for the kids to engage in,” Everson says, looking around at the bustling library. “There are models of houses and books and card games and board games – and they get to share them and share their mastery with the younger students, who then also get additional language training.”

Grade 11 student Ava Duff was one of those students. She, too, looks forward to their trips to Ripple Rock every two weeks.

“I’ve been in Kwakwala since Grade 8, and I love it,” Duff says. “I’ve got two siblings and a bunch of cousins in this school, so to come here and help teach these kids the language is really special to me.”

So much so, she says she’ll not only be taking the course and doing it again next year, she’s also signed up with Everson to be her Teaching Assistant for Duff’s final semester at Carihi.

“It’s not just about helping these kids learn, it’s also about helping me have a better understanding of my own culture,” she says. “It’s something that I’ve grown to love, and I just want to share that.”

As her final project for the younger kids this semester, Duff made a model of her house out of cardboard, paper, some popsicle sticks and some paint, and labelled everything inside it with the Kwakwala words for what they are. Then the younger students virtually “walk through it with their fingers, and I tell them to stop and we go through the names of the things they see in the house.”

And as this semester comes to a close, Everson says they’re stepping it up even more through the rest of this year.

While the expansion of the buddy project this year brought one class of kids into the fold on a regular basis rather than just on one day, next semester will see a rotation of classes joining in the fun.

“Some of the other teachers said they wanted to be a part of it, as well,” Everson says, “so next semester we’re adding other classes so that as many people as possible have an opportunity to learn from the older role models.”

For more information on the Kwakwala/Liqwala class at Carihi – a full, university-transferable second language program – or the buddy program between Carihi and Ripple Rock, contact Everson at

Campbell River Mirror