'He’s pulled generations along with him': Ucluelet teen completes third year of university degree
Although they’re separated by a decade in age, Hjalmer and his younger brother Timmy have always connected as the best of friends.
“We get along like a house on fire, so that helps!” Hjalmer laughs.
“We’ve always been right beside each other,” Timmy smiles.
Their journey took a turn a few years ago when Hjalmer was recovering from brain surgery.
“I had to learn to read and write and walk and talk,” Hjalmer recalls.
The older brother had to try and do all that while still attending university. So Timmy, who was 10 years old then, decided to postpone his schooling to support Hjalmer with his.
“I carried his bags and helped him take notes,” Timmy says.
“More than anything [he was] a huge support,” Hjalmer adds.
Helping his big brother with his physical struggle was one thing. Supporting his mental health was another.
“It was definitely hard to see that person beside you [who’s] so strong being weighed down by that,” Timmy says.
So they began making weekly visits to the University of Victoria’s First People’s House and Hjalmer started experiencing profound healing.
“When he was there [Timmy] just fell in love with the power that Coast Salish language and prayer and song had,” Hjalmer says.
“I was truly shocked at the amount that these elders knew,” Timmy says. “And from that I desperately wanted to learn my language.”
With Hjalmer on the mend, Timmy returned to Ucluelet, B.C., but was disappointed to find limited opportunities to really learn the Nuu-chah-nulth language in elementary school. So the then 11-year-old got special permission to take a couple university classes on the language.
“As I started to learn my language, I felt so strong in my identity as well,” Timmy says.
The feeling compelled Timmy to complete the language course, which made him eligible to teach when he was just 13.
“In Grade 8, I started teaching Nuu-chah-nulth language in my school,” Timmy smiles.
Timmy didn’t stop there. By Grade 9, he’d convinced UVic to let him pursue a diploma in language revitalization, which he achieved.
And by the time he’d graduated from Grade 12 this year, Timmy had also completed the first three years of a bachelor's degree in education.
“He’s pulled generations along with him,” Hjalmer says. “He’s asked us to come along this journey with him.”
Now the brothers are collaborating on creating music and dance videos like this one. It features Hjalmer’s carvings, Timmy’s writing, and subtitles in both Nuu-chah-nulth and English.
“We made it public so everybody could learn from it,” Timmy says. “The first step to bringing back language is having resources that people can use.”
“You can see how it's [inspiring] young people. I see my children speaking the language now,” Hjalmer smiles. “It’s because of their Uncle Tim who’s still our little boy!”
A “little boy” whose big brother couldn’t feel more proud.