sqw’iqw’ulush | Little Bird

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Gray Sutherland, poet and translator, worked with Quamichan Elder Sti’tum’at (Ruby Peter) to translate into Hulquminum a poem from his book The Elders’ Tales (2014, Gray Ink Ephemera). The poem has been translated into Hulquminum and then back into English.

This poem had some rich imagery and free verse style that made it especially challenging to translate. The spirit of the original comes through in the Hulquminum’.

Thanks to Thomas Jones for sound recording and editing, and Donna Gerdts for transcription and help with English translation.

Little Bird

’een’thu q’e’mi’ ’i’mushasum’,
I’m a young lady who’s walking,

qwiil’qwul’stuhw tsun tthu smunmunut,
talking to the mountains,

t’it’ulum’stuhw tsun tthu sqw’ulesh ’i’ tthu q’ullhanumutsun.
singing to the birds and whales.

yath tsun ’uw’ xi’xlhem’ut tthu smunmunut
I’m always gazing out toward the mountains

nem’ yul’uw’ ’u tthu kw’atl’kwa.
beyond the sea.

’een’thu lhu q’e’mi’ tun’ni’ ’u tthu sta’luw’
I am the girl from the river

m’i shhw’ew’us tthu stseelhtun.
where the salmon come to spawn

sht’ees tthu sta’luw’ kws t’it’ulum’s
It’s like the river is singing,

kwus st’e ’uw’ niis yut’it’ulum’ tthu yem’q’um’ qa’.
like the rippling water is singing.

sht’ees kwus ts’i’utul’ tthuw’ mukw’ ’i tun’a.
It’s like everything is praising one other.

’i nilh kw’uelh ni’ nu shtun’ni’ tthey’ ’uw’ mukw’.
All these things are where I am from.

’een’thu kwu’elh lhu q’e’mi’ tun’ni’ ’u kwthu sq’ul’ets’ s’uthnuts.
I am the young lady from the bay,

’i’ nilh shtun’ni’s tthuw’ mukw’ ts’its’usum’ slhexun’ spupin’.
where all the healing plants grow.

kws qw’ul-s tthuw’ mukw’ stth’oom’.
The berries all ripen.

’i’ mukw’ tthu skwthe’ nilh nuw’ sq’ul’ets’stal’hw,
And all the island protect us,

sq’ul’ets’tal’hw ’u thu xuy’tl’ tum’xuy’tl’ ’i’ tthu sxetl’.
protecting us from the cold winter storms.

’een’thu ’imuths thu hay ’ul’ stsi’elh s’eluhw slheni’.
I am the granddaughter of a very respected woman Elder.

nuw’ statul’namut lhey’ s’eluhw,
’i’ nilh ni’ hw’uw’tsustham’sh ’u tthuw’ mukw’ ni’ shtatul’st-hwus,
This old person has told me the knowledge, teaching me, making everything clear,

mukw’ tthu syuths tthu syuw’en’ tst,
all the teachings of our ancestors,

’i’ nilh nuw’ sqwul’qwul’s nuw’ s’amustham’shs.
and her stories that she gave me.

we’ tthu sxwi’em’s tthu yuxwule’, spaal’, ’i’ tthu q’ullhanumutsun,
Even the stories of the eagle, raven, and orca,

’i’ nilh nuw’ sqwul’qwul’s.
those were her stories.

ni’ st’ut’in’st-hwus ’uw’ mukw’ tthu ni’ sht’ees yus’e’sup’st-hwus
She lined them up one after another, telling each one completely.

mukw’ nuw’ qp’asum kwus sts’ist-hwus lhu s’eluhw
Everything is bowing down thanking the Elder

’u tthu ni’ yu shtatul’st-hwus yu stutul’een’ut-s thu ’imuths.
for all the knowledge she shared with her grandaughter.

ni’ tst yu s-hiilukw ’u tthu ni’ sht’es tthu yu skwukwun’ tst ’i’ ’u tun’a tumuhw,
We are happy about all things given to us by this world,

kws hays ’ul’ ’uw’ qux ni’ st’ee kw’ yu ’i’mushstum’
the many things for the journey

yu s’aa’hwusta’ul’t ’i’ nilh ni’ sts’ist-hwut.
that are given to us that are so precious to us.

’i’ ’uwu tse’ ’i’kw’us, ’uwu tse’ kw’ukw’e’te’wut,
And they are not to waste, never let them go.

’i’ nilh tse’ ni’ shni’s kwus hilukwstuhw tthuw’ mukw’.
And that’s how everyone will be happy.

’een’thu lhu q’e’mi’ tun’ni’ ’u tthu sta’luw’, skwuli’kwthu, smunmunut, ’i’ nilh mukw’ nuw’ nu shtun’ni’.
I am the girl from the river, the little island, the mountains, and I come from all of those.

’i’ nilh ni’ tl’uw’ shni’s tthuw’ mukw’ tthu s’aa’lh mustimuhw,
That’s the place of all of our people,

’i’ kwus tun’ni’ ’u tthu tumuhw tthu mustimuhw tst.
the land where our people come from.

’i’ ni’ st’ee ’uw’ niis tun’ni’ ’u tthu smunmunut tthu mustimuhw kwus m’i wutl’uts sus m’uw’ ’imush.
When the people fell from the sky, it was those mountains that they traveled from.

’i’ nilh tse’ ni’ st’ee kw’uw’ yu le’lum’ut tthu shtun’ni’s hulelum’ tst.
And it’s like they are watching over our ancestral home.

’i’ nilh ni’ st’ee kw’uw’ shtun’ni’s tthu syuw’en’s t’at mustimuhw
kwusulh tun’ni’ ’u tthu smunmunut.
And this is where our ancestors came from, from these mountains.

’een’thu kwu’elh lhu q’e’mi’ tun’ni’ ’u kwthu tsuwmun.
I am the girl who comes from the shore.

kwthu xe’xe’ huy’qwoon’ ’i’ ni’ tsun lhulel’ kwunus ni’ ’i’mush.
There is a scared light that I walk I walk beyond.

’een’thu kwu’elh lhu q’e’mi’ tun’ni’ ’u kwthuw’ mukw’.
I am the girl who comes from everywhere.

’i’ ni’ tsun tl’uw’ kwunnuhw lumnuhw tthuw’ mukw’,
I see everything about me,

smul’emnut ni’ ’u tthuw’ mukw’.
pebbles and everything.

’i’ nilh ni’ st’ee kw’uw’ hwu swe’s tthu mustimuhw,
And all these things come to belong to the people,

kwus tun’ni’ tthu mustimuhw tst ’u tthu tumuhw tst.
our people who come from this land.

’i’ hay ch q’a’.
And thank you.


Poem (original English version)

Sqw’iqw’ulush’s song

I am the girl who wanders talking to
the stones and birds, singing to the trees and whales,
gazing out towards the mountains beyond
the sea I am the girl from the river where
the fish come to spawn,

the oysters sleep the rippling waters sing
in praise of them I am the lady from
the sheltered bays where healing plants grow freely,
berries spring and islands protect us from
the black winter storms

I am the fortunate granddaughter of
a blessed elder wiser than any who
has taught me all her wisdom all the tales
the stories of our ancestors of how
raven eagle orca

fold into each other’s circle heads bowed in
thanks and how all things are given to us by
this wondrous world not to waste but through them
celebrate with unquestioning joy

I am the girl from the passage
between the rivers rocks and islands where
our people have lived since first they grew out of
the earth descending on the mountains that
overlook, protect our homes and where the
spirits of our elders dwell.

I am the girl from the shore, the girl who seeks
behind the light spreading skyward from the
autumn hills that other light, that other song
once I heard in the waters rushing over
rocks and pebbles one spring