R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me…

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Respectfully exploring seashores and parklands

For countless generations, the Indigenous Peoples of the Lәḱәŋәn (Lekwungen), WSÁNEĆ, Scia’new and T’Sou-ke First Nations have been thoughtful caretakers of the lands within the Greater Victoria area. Living in respectful balance with all living things is a fundamental principle of their beliefs and is still the basis of their relationship with the land today.

As a guest from the Kwakwaka’wakw Territory of the northeastern part of Vancouver Island, I share this sense of interconnection and balanced relationship. The people from my territory also believe that with respect, we appreciate the interconnection of all life and our essential part in the circle of life. This teaching and many others were taught to me as a child.

I was six years old when I learned a valuable lesson about respectful exploration. My family had travelled up island to visit relatives in the village where my mother was born. We were attending a wonderful feast featuring some of my favourites, like clams, herring, sockeye salmon and ť’ɫi’na (oolichan grease), a type of fish oil and delicacy to Coastal First Nations. After the meal, the adults settled in to share family stories, histories and traditional songs and as much as I loved to listen to the elders sing and speak the language, my mind wandered to the beach.

I wanted to flip over rocks, dig in the sand and scoop up whatever was hidden inside or underneath. While exploring, I picked up a large horse clam shell from the beach to hold what I found. A tiny sea star, hermit crab and sea snail were among some of my treasures, along with a few small stones that caught my eye. I added in a little sea water for my new friends and couldn’t wait to show the collection to my mother.

I made my way back to my parents, and triumphantly stepped up to present my menagerie. The sadness that came into my mother’s eyes was deeply disappointing and I felt my excitement drain away. My mother gently took the shell from my hand, looked inside and said, “I think your little friends are scared and I wonder what their parents are doing right now?”

I remember looking away and shrugging my shoulders as my mother continued. “I don’t know what I would do if someone took you away from me. I would be heartbroken and would probably spend the rest of my life trying to find you.”

That did it! I felt a wave of overwhelming regret and burst into tears. How could I have been so thoughtless? My mother gave be a reassuring hug and then accompanied me to return my ‘friends’ to their homes on the beach.

As I grew up, I learned more about why First Peoples believe that all living things should be respected. From insects to eagles; from bees to bears; and from crabs to caribou, we believe that unless we have a purpose, like hunting, gathering or fishing, we do not have the right to disturb animals in their natural environment.

While raising my own children we often spent time at the beach respectfully exploring. I let them know that it’s okay to turn over a rock or two and thoughtfully observe the creatures underneath. It’s okay to look inside a tide pool and watch the tentacles of a sea anemone sway back and forth in search of food.

But I also let them know that it’s not okay to interfere with the animals. Instead, we learned about the traditional methods for harvesting and the multiple uses for plants and animals on the beach.

In my capacity as the Cultural Programmer for CRD Regional Parks, it is my role to develop education programs with an emphasis on promoting and celebrating the cultural history of First Nations in CRD Regional Parks. I work with a dedicated team to ensure Indigenous cultural teachings are respectfully applied to researching, preparing, and delivering park interpretive programs. I am proud to say that our collaborative efforts are now an integral part of raising awareness of Indigenous Cultural heritage in Regional Parks.

I am now a grandmother and looking forward to the days when I can pass along these teachings to my grandchildren and explain what R-E-S-P-E-C-T- means to me.

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