Wolastoqey teenager calling bingo is proud to speak his language
Standing outside a ballroom at the Delta Hotel in Fredericton, 17-year-old Wyatt Moulton holds a bingo ball and bellows the numbers. First in Wolastoqey, then in English.
It’s bingo night for delegates to a language conference for the six Wolastoqey First Nations in New Brunswick.
« It feels good to call bingo for seniors, » said the teenager from Neqotkuk. « It’s a way of modernizing our language and using our language in a way that shows our language can evolve. »
Wyatt’s mother and grandparents taught him his language. Nowadays, having three generations in one family all speaking Wolastoqey is virtually unheard of, he said.
The conference reminded him that there are a lot of speakers, and « it’s amazing » to be around them.
“It feels like when we work together, we achieve our common goal of bringing back our language, taking back our language, taking back our space.”
Good night, good morning, I love you
Wyatt is a regular at the weekly bingo nights at Neqotkuk. He also translates books and stories.
And after high school, he plans to continue learning his language.
He thanks his grandparents, Elders, and his mother, Wendi Moulton, for passing it on to him.
Wyatt sets his language skills at a « basic intermediate » level.
« If I really wanted to flatter myself, I’d probably say I have the fluency of a three-year-old, » he laughed. « I speak a bit of a toddler’s Wolastoqey, but I’m still learning. »
When her son was growing up, Wendi says, she made sure that the last thing he heard when he went to bed at night and the first thing he heard in the morning were words in his language.
« Wəli pemolakwiw – Good evening. and Wəli sapawiw “Hello, Kəseləmol — I love you,” she laughed.
« I’m so proud, I’m amazed, » Wendi said looking at her son.
« I’m just happy because he could do other things like teenagers his age would, but no, he just immersed himself in our culture. Not just the language, he plays drums, he sings , he’s so involved with our old way of life. »
« I’m quite alone »
Wyatt wishes other people his age could talk to him in Wolastoqey.
« I’m pretty lonely when it comes to speaking the language, » he said.
He is the only one in his school to be a lecturer and for him, « it really sucks ».
« I call on my fellow youth to…learn as many words as they can. You might learn one word. You might learn 100 words. It doesn’t matter. Your ancestors hear you and they like to hear you. So speak your language. Skicinowato nitapiyik — Nit-te psiw. »
Wendi said her son may not see him, but she thinks he inspires his peers. She remembers being a teenager herself and not wanting her parents to talk to her in Wolastoqey.
« Because that wasn’t a thing when I was growing up. I would even cover my ears and be like ‘Aaahhh, don’t talk to me like that.’ So yes, now I kinda regret it. » Wendi paused and added, « I’m glad he’s bringing it back, you know. »
Seniors ‘so happy and so proud’
Before the bingo game began, elder and language bearer Imelda Perley gave Wyatt a few phrases to add to his repertoire of bingo calls.
They laughed together as they went over Wolastoqey words for numbers and how to say things like « wild number », « jackpot » and « four corners ».
Perley said she cried the first time she heard Wyatt call an Elder bingo game Thursday night in Neqotkuk.
« As soon as I heard it – I had no idea this was going to happen – I lost it. I was so happy and so proud, and I had to go tell him. »
Wyatt’s voice began to crack as the bingo game continued.
Her mother laughed when it happened. She was sitting next to him, pulling out the bingo balls and handing them to him one by one.
« I love it. I do. I love it, » she said, hearing him speak Wolastoqey.
And she knows that the elders also like to hear it.
« It is very important for them to be able to see and hear a young person speaking the language and having such a passion. Yes, he is an inspiration not only for his own peers, but also for the Elders. »