Restoring ȽÁU,WELṈEW the Place of Refuge
On Thursday we finally had the second reading debate for Bill 16, Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act (2019). Each year there is an amendment Bill similar to this one, where government will open up the legislation to make adjustments to park boundaries.
In this instance, there are a handful of parks that are impacted. There are a few additions with land either donated or purchased being added to a park and one instance of land being removed so the Loon Lake community can rebuild their fire hall after it was lost in last year's wild fires.
There was one other aspect of this Bill which impacts Saanich North and the Islands. For decades the Class A Provincial Park at the top of Mt. Newton on the Saanich Peninsula has been known as John Dean Provincial Park. For countless generations before that it was known by the W̱SÁNEĆ people as ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. (I encourage you to watch the video below to hear the pronunciation.)
What's in a name?
It has long troubled the W̱SÁNEĆ that the mountain’s official name has been something other than ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. It is one of the most sacred places for the W̱SÁNEĆ. In Bill 16, the provincial government is finally acknowledging the ancient name the mountain has carried by officially adding it to the Park. Once this Bill fully passes it will be known as ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱/John Dean Provincial Park. How this change occurred is a beautiful story that I recount in my speech and I hope you will take a few minuted to watch the video or read the transcript below.
Changing names is an interesting, and perhaps even controversial topic. I will explore it in a future post. In short, I am pleased that this Bill is simply adding the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ to the official place name. It is an important place for many residents of the Saanich Peninsula and they know it by many names. While there is potentially bitterness about how Mr. John Dean got possession of the land, he later donated a major portion of it to make the park. I think we can all be happy that his actions resulted in some of the mountain being protected so that we still have a place on the Saanich Peninsula to remind us of the old growth forests that once covered the area.
First, I want to acknowledge that I stand in this House on the territory of my Straits Salish relatives, who are now known as the Songhees and the Esquimalt. I'm honoured to be able to work in their beautiful territory each day. Today my act of reconciliation is to share an important story of support for this legislation, Bill 16, the Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act.
Second, I want to acknowledge the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership, the elders and the youth who are here today to witness this debate. It is a good day. ÍY SC̸ÁĆEL.
W̱SÁNEĆ Flood Story
In the beginning, it was the W̱SÁNEĆ teaching to look after Mother Earth, all of the animals, the birds, the trees, the salmon, the wind were— and still are — people. For many years, the people remembered the words of the creator, XÁLS, and there was a long period of happiness and plentiful food. But they began to forget those teachings. The creator's feelings were hurt that the people forgot his good teachings, so the creator told the people that a great flood would come and said: "Go prepare yourselves."
The people prepared a cedar rope and gathered their food and all of their possessions. The tidewaters began to rise. The people loaded all of their belongings into their canoes. Some people did not heed XÁLS's teachings. They were not prepared, and they were washed away. Their canoes were destroyed.
The water rose higher and higher, and the people paddled to the highest mountain nearby. The trees were still above the water. They tied themselves to an arbutus tree at the top of the mountain. Soon the tops of the trees were covered by the water. They were afraid, and they prayed that they would survive the great flood. They asked XÁLS to take pity on them.
After many days, a crow came and landed on the bow of the canoe. He was carrying a stick and was talking to the people. The crow had brought good news. Suddenly a mountain began to emerge in the distance. One of the men said: NI QENNET TTE WSÁNEC Translated, it means: "Look what is emerging." He pointed to the mountain emerging in the distance.
Before they left the mountain, they gathered around a huge coil of cedar rope and gave thanks and said: "From now on, this mountain will be known as ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, the place of refuge." And they also said: "We will be known as the W̱SÁNEĆ, the emerging people."
XÁLS heard their prayers. He said he would not punish the people again by flood. The people were saved. They are now known as the W̱SÁNEĆ people.
The emerging people
This is the story of our sacred mountain, the origins of how we became known as W̱SÁNEĆ. We are still emerging today, as is evidenced by the beautiful faces sitting in the gallery today. The story of the W̱SÁNEĆ is just another beautiful story of the success in our territory. Just as the ancient story of the great flood, which has been carried by our ancestors, our S¸ELELW̱ÁÁN, and passed to our youth, it was not the last time that the W̱SÁNEĆ people were nearly drowned. There is a more recent story. These experiences are closer to the surface and the scars still mark many of our people's skin. It's not an old story.
Only about 160 years ago, a colonial flood of settlers came into the surrounding waters and onto these lands. In those first decades, school was not something to be remembered; school was something to be feared. Despite the memories burned into the minds of our elders, the stories they carry became an embarrassing reminder of the cruel and despicable decisions that can be made in houses just like this one by members of these houses. While we would prefer to believe that this is our past, it is indeed still, unfortunately, our present.
A new place of refuge
But in the 1970s, our late elders Philip Paul, Marie Cooper and many of our other grandmothers came together because they did not want their experience of school to be the experience of their grandchildren. They wanted a different future for generations to come. From those meetings, the Saanich Indian school board was born. The goal was to build an institution that would provide our youth with a western education in a safe and culturally appropriate environment.
If you consider the brutality that they and their parents experienced in school, this was really quite remarkable. But they knew that the floodwaters were rising and that they must tie their ropes to the quickly disappearing trees before it was too late. The federal government policies that in many respects still divide us today, those same policies that have Indigenous communities fighting over the crumbs that have fallen from the Crown's table, jealously guarding small scraps while overlooking the opportunity that unity brings, those deliberate policies were set aside by Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, those leaders that came together to create the Saanich Indian school board.
To this day, it remains the one institution that has truly united the W̱SÁNEĆ people on the Saanich Peninsula. It is indeed a model that we should be aggressively seeking to replicate in all aspects of our governance if we are to truly be and continue to be the emerging people.
What will we call it?
As the school campus evolved and a new facility was built in the 1980s and 1990s, our W̱SÁNEĆ elders began talking about what the name of the school would be. "What will we call it?" I heard a story about that time. My family members and many others families were involved in this discussion.
Ray Sam suggested that they should use the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. The others thought that it might be better for it to carry a different name. Some said that the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ is already used. It's the name of the sacred mountain. ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ is the place of refuge, and it got its name from the time of the great flood.
But perhaps that is exactly why they should use the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. Our people were experiencing a new flood, a new social and cultural deluge. They were becoming overwhelmed by floodwaters. This school was to be ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, a place of refuge for our children, for our culture, for our language, for our teaching, for our beautiful way of life. After a long discussion about the name of the school, it was finally settled. It would be known as ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱.
Importance of a name
It's important to understand the significance of names to the W̱SÁNEĆ. They carry with them a tremendous amount of historical information. When you are honoured with a name and it is bestowed upon you, you carry a responsibility to carry that name forward honourably. Naming ceremonies are powerful public events where families unveil their most sacred rituals and call on the most influential members of the communities to witness the events. Names are not to be used without the proper authority, and to misuse a name comes with tremendous shame.
The discussion about names in the W̱SÁNEĆ culture is the defining moment for a W̱SÁNEĆ person. It determines our social status, responsibility and roles. Life would be substantially different and difficult for a child whose parents passed away before they had received their name. When the elders in your family gather to determine your name, they are, in a sense, breathing life into you.
This example of the naming of a mountain and a school is an indication that there's little difference of the import on the names of places and people. In many instances, they are the same, and they highlight a sense of a family or individual belonging to a certain place. They also describe the place, the resources, the characteristics of a place, so that when you got there, you knew that you were there. For example, SṈIDȻEȽ. It means the place of the blue grouse.
A significant moment!
I share this to illustrate the substance of these actions today. It's one line in one bill, jammed between question period and lunch, on an average Thursday in early May. It may be easy to overlook this as just another act in just another bill on just another day. Indeed, many of our colleagues will stand without even knowing the deep meaning and importance of this action.
When I stood before the break weeks to talk about the territorial acknowledgments, I asked the members of this House to consider them not as a duty or to read them as a prepared script but, rather, as an act of reconciliation and to provide the detail of what you are doing in your life, to live your words. This here today is a powerful example of that.
The youth movement
In a sacred naming ceremony, they brought the name down from the mountain, our place of refuge, ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, and put it on the school. It's a place of refuge from a new existential threat — ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. About a year ago, I was called to ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. Ms. Melanie Neilson's class invited me to the school to present me with a petition. The students visited their sacred mountain and were appalled to see the signage. It had another name. "John Dean Provincial Park," they read. They were sad that the name of the sacred place that saved their ancestors, ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, was missing, and they wanted that to change.
So they put together a petition of the names of the students in the school — 174 in total. They were joined by 175 signatures from the students at Cordova Bay Elementary — a petition from those students standing with them in solidarity. They provided handwritten letters to the minister and asked me to lobby the government to change the name back to ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. And they did what every powerful group of advocates do: they called the media. I promised them that I would do what I could. Thankfully, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy was willing to complete the work.
They were with us in the Chamber
So today I stand to tell the story of our sacred mountain, ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, the place of refuge. And just as that mountain saved our ancestors and gave us our name and identify as the emerging people, my work here today is to honour the effort of our beautiful children who have not forgotten their teachings. Today their S¸ELELW̱ÁÁN are here with us in this room today. They will be smiling with pride as their children and grandchildren have reminded us all of what it means to live in a good way.
To our elders — who debated whether or not the name of our school, the school that is now restoring our language and revitalizing our culture, should be called ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ — I believe today will be a day when we can all agree that that was a good decision.
So I look to the children and their teachers who are with us in the gallery. On behalf of our leadership, our community members and our ancestors, I'm humbled by you. I'm excited about our future. And I raise my hands to you — HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM .
It has always been
Not yet. That was the first time that has happened.
Finally, I'd like to say that the name of the mountain on the Saanich Peninsula has never changed. But for a brief time, we've called it John Dean Provincial Park or Mt. Newton. The recent signage around the park and all the maps of the place have identified it with these names, but it has always carried the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱.
The people who've lived for generations at the base of that mountain and who have shared the original story of the great flood but never forgot the day of deliverance from inundation, reminded of the reward for remembering the teachings of moderation, connection and collaboration so that I may be able to stand in this place and recite those ancient narratives so that we may be able to live in a good way. To those people, the mountain still carries the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱.
I'm pleased that the government — and, more specifically, the minister — heard the call and has officially moved to recognize the sacred significance of ȽÁU, WELṈEW by adding it to the name of the provincial park. I will, of course, be supporting Bill 16, the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act.