Photo Credit: Alice L. Meyers |
Written by Alice L. Meyers, PhD
“Land-based learning means a return to ancestral ways of being, nurturing whole beings, making space for emotion and spirituality.”
– Alice L. Meyers
As I began to write this blog post, the magical flowers of spring and summer were emerging from the forest floor — from the moons of WEXES (moon of the frog) to PEXSISEṈ (moon of the blossoms), from SX̱ÁNEȽ (moon of the bullhead) to PENAW̱EṈ (moon of the camas), from ĆENŦEKI (moon of the sockeye) to ĆENHENEN (moon of the pink salmon), when the honeysuckle blooms — I am drawn into a state of immense gratitude for the care-full and intentional stewardship of these lands, for millennia, by SENĆOŦEN, Ləkwəŋən, and Hul’q’umi’num’-speaking peoples.
Having lived my whole life as a grateful guest on Turtle Island — I am only beginning to know and understand what my positionality as a ‘settler’ means — I honour the First Peoples of these lands and acknowledge that colonialism has brought immense pain to their communities; intergenerational trauma that spreads out in wider and wider circles. I am a settler of Scottish, English, Swiss-German and Irish ancestry, whose ancestors worked on — and benefitted from — the fruit and fish of the lands known colonially as Canada for over five generations, mainly on Anishinaabe territory near the Great Lakes. When I traveled to the West coast in 2015, I began a series of conversations with local W̱SÁNEĆ and Quw’utsun Elders, in part to learn about the hosts and lands on which I was living, and in part for my PhD dissertation research. We spoke of land, relationships to land, Indigenous languages, place names, plants as foods and medicines, and territories that had been devastated and are now being restored. I humbly thank my teachers and the Knowledge Keepers who shared with me, including W̱SÁNEĆ Elder Earl Claxton, Jr. XEṮÁXṮEN Capilino (SȾÁUTW̱). When we talk about relationships with the land, this is something we can all perhaps relate to, in one way or another. The intricacy of First Peoples’ relationships to land continue to emerge. As Earl has shared, in a teaching from his father, Earl Claxton, Sr. YELḰÁTŦE, “if there is a name for it, it’s W̱SÁNEĆ territory.” All the plants have names, all the places have names, their stories are there to be heard if we listen quietly and curiously.
As we walked the land together, restoring Indigenous food systems and learning about the plants and trees of the forest, many Knowledge Keepers shared stories of teaching on the land, drawn to sacred places through keystone food systems, interweaving Oral Histories with Indigenous languages. As I summarized in my PhD thesis, Indigenous languages connect with ethnobotanical knowledges; blending mariculture, prayer names, traditional practices, and songs. Foods and medicines are harvested in “reciprocal acts of gratitude.” Students learn and speak Indigenous languages through (w)holistic, land-centred education, while regenerating lands, waters, and medicines. McIvor (2005) identifies language as a link to identity, connecting mind, body and spirit, a “repository of history” perpetuated through traditional songs, stories, and ritual; connecting past and present in a local sense.
Indigenous languages grow as part of linguistic ecologies (Twitchell, 2017), thriving within the seen and unseen, more than human world. They are a window into worldview (Simpson, 2011); repositories of botanical, environmental, and kinship knowledges — central to Indigenous identity. What was shared with me by Knowledge Keepers was that, as W̱SÁNEĆ, Quw’utsun, Líl̓wat and Gitga’at communities (re)inhabit social, physical, spiritual, and emotional spaces to speak their languages of SENĆOŦEN, Hul’q’umi’num’, Ucwalmícwts, and Sm̓algya̱x, respectively, they use pedagogies of the land. Teaching styles are grounded in Indigenous land education (Calderon, 2014; Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, 2013). They decolonize botanical knowledges (Geniusz, 2009), upholding ontologies of lands and waters. Pedagogies of the land are a return to ancestral ways of being, nurturing whole beings, making space for emotion and spirituality (Styres et al., 2014; Styres & Zinga, 2013).
Life is a property of the ecosphere, and producing food in community can be powerful. As Oneida Elder Grafton Antone has commented (in Potts, 2010), hands in the dirt reconnects people, and relationships with plants transcend nutrition, offering medicinal soul healing. Indigenous food sovereignty is increasingly essential, and a lack of access and connection to traditional foods is a product of cultural genocide. As was shared during my thesis research, (re)connection with ancestral foods creates culturally-safe opportunities for improved health — and social, cultural, and economic capital. Indigenous languages spoken in food-based settings mean that many generations sit together at the table, sharing language, nutrition, and knowledge. These reclamations (Leonard, 2018) of languages and foods are interconnected forms of anti- and counter-hegemonic resistance. This resistance comes through cultivating plants and trees, through ecosystem and clam garden restoration, and through harvesting, food preparation, and ceremony.
As I gratefully ponder my own connection to plants and trees on these W̱SÁNEĆ, T’Souke, and Lekwungen territories, so many magical and extraordinary places come to mind. Deep purple ḰȽO,EL (camas) blossoms emerging in forests and on mountain tops, fields and cliffs. I cherish the fresh and bright aroma of XPAY (cedar in SENĆOŦEN) hanging in elegant boughs in the forests of W̱MÍYEŦEN (in the Highlands, north of the lands known colonially as Victoria, British Columbia), the fragrance of KÁLK (Nootka rose) blossoms floating on the breeze as I bicycle past them Meegan (Ləkwəŋən for Beacon Hill/Dallas Road) or on the Galloping Goose near Roche Cove. Seeing the tiny new leaves of DILEK,IȽĆ (wild strawberries) emerge on rocky ocean-side cliffs at T’Souke, their fuzzy grey-ish green leaves almost akin to the tiny ear of a baby bunny…I feel the magic that lives here, and I am humbled.
As I reflect on the regenerative power of the flowers that blanket (Turner, 2005) the forest floor, I am left with lingering questions…
- What about caring for all beings with an equal amount of love and respect?
- What about loving the plants on the forest floor?
- What about respecting and searching for more knowledge?
- What about being curious?
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM, huy ch q’u siem, t’oyaxsun, kúkwstum̓ckacw. Thank you.
Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to Manifest Destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 20(1), 24–36.
FirstVoices. (2020). SENĆOŦEN home page. https://www.firstvoices.com/explore/FV/sections/Data/THE%20SENĆOŦEN%20LANGUAGE/SENĆOŦEN/SENĆOŦEN
Geniusz, W. (Makoons). (2009). Our knowledge is not primitive: Decolonizing botanical Anishinaabe teachings. Syracuse University Press.
Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, N. (2013). The seeds we planted: Portraits of a native Hawaiian charter school (First Peoples: New Direction in Indigenous Studies). University of Minnesota Press.
Leonard, W. (2018, June 8). Fostering Indigenous-centered collaborations in language reclamation. [Plenary address]. Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium. University of Lethbridge.
McIvor, O. (2005). The contribution of Indigenous heritage language immersion programs to healthy early childhood development. Research connections Canada: Supporting children and families, 12, 5–20.
Meyers, A. L. (2020). Blossoming Multiliteracies: Stories of How W̱SÁNEĆ, Quw’utsun, Gitga’at, and Líl̓wat Nations Reclaim Indigenous Languages and Food Systems Through Pedagogies of the Land. Doctoral Dissertation (Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto).
Potts, K. (2010). Can you feel it? Finding the spirit of Toronto with the help of Aboriginal Torontonians. TOpography, 98–106. https://chbooks.com/content/download/4749/63078/version/1/file/9781552451946_GreenTOpia_ excerpt.pdf
Simpson, L. B. (2011). Dancing on our turtle’s back: Stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence. ARP Books.
SȾÁUTW (Tsawout), Claxton, B. (SELILIYE), & Penn, B. (Artist). (2011). W̱SÁNEĆ 13 moon calendar.
Turner, N. J. (2005). The Earth’s blanket: Traditional teachings for sustainable living. University of Washington Press.
Turner, N. J. & Hebda, R.J. (2017). Saanich ethnobotany: Culturally important plants of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Royal BC Museum Publishing.
Twitchell, X. L. (2017, October 23). Counterhegemonic Indigenous Hyperconsciousness: Engineering Social Change for Language Revitalization [Slideshow Presentation]. Meeting of the Society of Research in Indigenous Languages and Linguistics. University of Victoria.