I joined the Mayne Island Conservancy many years ago because their members are concerned about the land and the future of the earth, and take action where they live. When I joined the Conservancy Board in 2022, I did so because I believed the Conservancy would be a good organization through which to share my belief that the lessons we can learn from Indigenous land-based cultural teachings are as important to our caring for the land as those from the world of the sciences, social sciences and humanities.
Because of my interest in this aspect of conservation, I was asked to Chair the Conservancy’s Indigenous Relations Committee. Started by our Executive Director, Michael Dunn, President Malcolm Inglis, and then Board member Doug Aberley, the committee is tasked with providing support to the Board in building strong community-to-community relationships with Indigenous communities, and with providing advice and direction to the Board on matters that directly or indirectly affect those relationships.
Purpose of the Indigenous Relations Committee
So why is the Mayne Island Conservancy so interested in building strong community-to-community relationships with Indigenous communities? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports and calls to action remind us that all of us, as Treaty people, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships. Reconciliation is the Conservancy’s responsibility, just as much as it is that of all island organizations.
Beyond that – as I see it – one of the opportunities the Conservancy has in building relationships with knowledge keepers and Elders is to learn from Indigenous knowledge and their ancient stories about SḴŦAḴ / Mayne Island. These teachings can provide insight into the traditional ways Indigenous people conserved and stewarded the land and waters of this island.
Over the past few years, I have gained an increasing understanding and respect for the place-based and “relational” nature of Indigenous culture: how everything in their culture is related to the place and caring for the land. So important is this concept in Indigenous culture, that the W̱SÁNEĆ have a word for it – ȻELÁ,NEN; meaning “teachings of the places where you come from”; this is also the word that embodies W̱SÁNEĆ world view.
A New Ethnobotanical Garden
One of the Conservancy’s recent partnerships has us working closely with W̱SÁNEĆ elders, the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation, the Campbell Bay Music Festival, and the Agricultural Society on a project to create an ethnobotanical garden about 30 x 40 feet in size in a wetland site next to the new thrift shop.
Similar to the Japanese Gardens, this garden has been conceived as a means of commemorating and honouring the Indigenous people who have cared for this land since time immemorial. Interpretive signage is planned to educate visitors about native plants and their traditional W̱SÁNEĆ uses in both English and SENĆOŦEN. Presenting the information in SENĆOŦEN will introduce visitors to the original language of this territory and contribute to language revitalization. Information will be shared about the W̱SÁNEĆ world view in which the natural world takes care of humans, which engenders humanity’s responsibility to care for the natural world.
Sarah Jim, artist, addresses the audience at the January 7th “Art and Ethnobotany” event and unveiling of her triptych of mural designs for the new ethnobotanical garden.
Stay tuned as we finalize the perimeter fencing area of the ethnobotanical garden and prepare to “get physical” with the project. Thanks so much to all the volunteers from the Conservancy, the Mayne Island Agricultural Society, Campbell Bay Music Festival Society, and the Mayne Island Library who have been involved to date. Your contributions are appreciated, and I hope being involved is both educational and lots of fun!
We will be looking for other volunteers for this project as we move forward. Maybe that is you?
The ŚTEṈIST ȻENTOL EȻSIÁ TĆÁNȻE / Walking Forward with the Past Project
The ethnobotanical garden is part of a reconciliation project called “ŚTEṈIST ȻENTOL EȻSIÁ TĆÁNȻE / Walking Forward with the Past” managed by the Campbell Bay Music Festival Society. The project will include an outdoor Indigenous art exhibit with murals, carved poles, and sculptures on the same property.
At the project’s launch last summer, W̱SÁNEĆ Elder J’SINTEN / Dr. John Elliott from WJOLELP / Tsartlip spoke of the W̱SÁNEĆ world view – ȻELÁ,NEN – sharing stories illustrating how the people are related to plants, animals, and the geography of the homeland.
“The high mountains are sacred, the rivers and streams are sacred, the fishes are sacred, our homeland is sacred, respected ones.”
He reminded us of the creation story about the islands; that they are relatives called ṮEṮÁĆES, which means “relatives of the deep.” J’SINTEN / Dr John Elliott said, “We want to move together with each and every one of you working together. Maybe this can be a good example of how it is that the settler population and our people – the W̱SÁNEĆ people – can work together to make something nice together to be left here for the future. Maybe we will grow together. Maybe we will grow. Because water brings growth to us and gives us all a good life force.”
Coming Soon: A Restoration and Carving Fieldtrip March 23
Watch for more information on another exciting event related to this project – a field trip to a SṈIDȻEȽ restoration project and the Carving Shed of Master Artist, Charles TEMOSEN Elliott, on Thursday March 23, 2023. More information including registration and cost will be available soon.
- For more information on W̱SÁNEĆ world view and creation stories, visit https://wsanec.com/four-stories-of-how-things-came-to-be/
- For a guide to SENĆOŦEN pronunciation, see: http://saanich.montler.net/say/index.htm
- Information on the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation: a charitable non-profit organization providing participatory education opportunities about traditional and healthy food systems, contributing to the restoration and revitalization of native ecosystems in the W̱SÁNEĆ homelands, and promoting food security and indigenous food sovereignty in the W̱SÁNEĆ community and beyond.
“ŚTEṈIST ȻENTOL EȻSIÁ TĆÁNȻE / Walking Forward with the Past” has received funding from the BC Arts Council, the CRD Arts Commission, and the provincial 150 Time Immemorial Fund through Heritage BC. Campbell Bay Music Festival is administering the project in collaboration with W̱SÁNEĆ and Island partners including the Mayne Island Conservancy, the Mayne Island Agricultural Society, W̱SÁNEĆ Elders, the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation, W̱SÁNEĆ artists and W̱SÁNEĆ Curator Rose Spahan.