Island youth connects with diverse family history

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This is the last interview in the Connecting the Dots series to celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. In the weeks that bookend this important day, The Circle Education talks with young people to celebrate different backgrounds. Through our youth, we hope to offer a look at the world from different perspectives. In this way, we begin to open up horizons, providing our societies with connection and making them more inclusive. All articles in the series can be read on The Circle website.

By MARCIA JANSEN

The Circle Education

Max Akerman is part of a family that has been on Salt Spring Island for generations. His forefathers left England and Ireland in the mid-1800s to seek a better life in North America. Max’s great-granddad Bob Akerman wrote a book about the family history in 2005, the same year Max was born.

“I was the last Akerman who was added to the family tree in the book. I just made the deadline,”says Max, who has two younger sisters.

Everyone who lives on Salt Spring Island has probably heard of the name Akerman. Max, 16, is the oldest child of Ken and Brenda Akerman, who live in the Burgoyne Valley.

“When I introduce myself, people often ask me who I am related to or if I know a certain Akerman. I might have heard of the name, but my family is so big, that I don’t know everyone personally. I am very close, though, with my uncle George and my aunt Dawn, their children, and my grandparents Ted and Donna, who live just across the street from us.”

Max admits that he didn’t read all of The Akerman Family. Growing Up With Salt Spring Island, which his great-granddad Bob wrote.

“I read parts of it, I am not a big reader, but my granddad has told me a lot of stories about our family history. I know my family has been on Salt Spring Island since the 1800s. My great-great-grandfather Ted was one of the first white babies born on Salt Spring.”

The Akerman family, who settled in the Burgoyne Valley, has a farming background.

“Mostly livestock,” says Max. “My granddad had cows in the past and even now he is older, he still has sheep, does haying and sells firewood. He really enjoys being out on the field, it always has been his life. I like to help him in the summer, but I don’t see myself being a farmer.”

The Akermans are traditionally introduced to hunting and fishing at a young age. According to his book, Bob Akerman learned to shoot pigeons from his dad when he was five. His son Ted Akerman has been passing his hunting and fishing skills on to the younger generation as well.

“Last week my granddad took me and my cousin out for fishing on Stowel Lake. I caught a very small rainbow trout, so I released it. My granddad caught three of them that were big enough to eat and he gave both me and my cousin one to take home. Fresh fish tastes so much better than store-bought fish.”

Since he was 10 years old, Max was allowed to come hunting once a year with his granddad and dad.

“We hunt on my granddad’s property, mostly for deer. There are a lot of them on Salt Spring Island. I shot my first one when I was 10. When I hunt, I use a crossbow — I’ve never shot a gun — and I am naturally good at it. I have a steady hand. I enjoy the process, being out there in nature, and I like deer meat. We try to use as much as possible, so nothing is wasted. We make sausages and pepperoni, and I love a venison steak. It has a unique taste.”

Although he is more familiar with the settler’s background of his family, he is also interested in the Indigenous part. His great-great-grandfather Ted married Ellen Gyves, whose mother was the daughter of a Cowichan First Nation chief.

“I do feel that I am part of the Indigenous culture. I don’t know everything about Indigenous traditions, but I am constantly learning new things as I grow older. At GISS there is extra support for Indigenous students and we went on field trips to Burgoyne Bay and Cowichan Bay to meet with elders who talk with us about the history and practices of native people. It is very interesting to learn more about that.”

Max just finished Grade 11 and starts his final school year at GISS after the summer. He doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do after he graduates.

“I don’t like school that much and I don’t see myself going to college or university. I would rather start my own business, but I am not sure in what direction that will take me.”

After more than a hundred years since Joseph Akerman set foot on Salt Spring Island in the 1800s, the Akerman name is still very common.

“I don’t plan on staying on Salt Spring. I like a change of pace, I would love to live in the city, or maybe go outside of Canada to learn about other cultures. I know other family members have left, like my father who went to Vancouver for a few years, but a lot of them came back. So, if you look at the past, there is a good chance that I will end up on Salt Spring again.”

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