My peoples are described as keeping an oral history. Since my youth I had to think about why we lived the way we lived…. Colonialism and colonial education insists there are superior and inferior cultures. My youth was spent decolonizing aka deprogramming colonial ideas and concepts. This was very important to me because colonialism insists that my peoples – aka my family – are defeated peoples. It insists I am a defeated person. Colonialism wanted me to be born thinking I was defeated. I was able to see lots of evidence of that… but a piece of me would always refuse to believe it, as well. Because if winning = abducting children, abusing them, starving them, segregating and dividing people… this is no world any human being wants to live in. Nobody is happy with the state of the world. Be it racism, poverty, dying animal species, dying plant species. Nobody wants this.
I come from people whose rivers flowed so abundant of salmon they could walk on the salmons backs. So plentiful of ducks, they blackened out the sun when they’d fly. They never needed to wish for anything, because they had more than enough of everything they needed. That includes from the land, but also sophisticated trade systems.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to live in my ancestors’ world? People were healthy, honest… our first rule was to be kind. We could drink from creeks. Our architecture allowed us to have homes warm and strong enough to be a permanent dwelling, but also portable enough to move to our winter and summer villages. We had forests full of ancient cedars, and meadows of beautiful flowers whose bulbs were edible and attracted enough bees to create a deafening hum, and butterflies must’ve blanketed the ocean sprays and nettles.
Colonial history has been written down, and tells stories of winners, and losers. Usually naming British people as victorious. Killing and raping people does not equal a victory. It’s a shameful history. Anyone with a conscience will have to accept that truth. I learned what colonialism valued in school, Egypt, Mesopotamia… the Pyramids, I’ve been told, were built to glorify the Pharaohs. In a colonial mindset, this taught me, if someone could “build” – in quotations because these Pharaohs didn’t build anything themselves, slaves did – something large that lasted for centuries… that is what greatness is. In a colonial mindset my people are then inferior because we didn’t create things to be built to last forever. On the contrary, we actually preferred our building materials to be disposable. Everything we made could and would eventually breakdown into soil. Today there are shell midden evidence of my peoples. Marks on some rock walls. But we are largely oral historians. So what did that teach me? When I was decolonizing and deprogramming from the rape culture mindset, I asked myself, “Who did manage to be remembered?” We have stories of ancestors who were warriors. We have stories even older than that of people who the Creator or the Transformers turned to stone, from human beings to animals, to always be remembered. I was like, “Omg I hope I’m never turned to stone. I don’t want to teach people for an eternity!” Lol. People were turned to stone either for being a good example or a bad example. I was honestly always so conscious that the creator could always show up and change me, so I’d pray to be good and kind enough that if the creator FORCED me to be an example, then hopefully I’d be a good one. I knew that was less than likely, but it did teach me, that any human being can be remembered through oral history, and they could be remembered negatively or fondly. That still put a bit of pressure on me. I looked to the stories I grew up learning. An ancestor of mine was remembered because he killed a two-headed serpent. The powers he gained from killing it allowed him to harvest animals for meat without using a weapon to kill them. He could fight battles and take out whole groups of people, and more. Another ancestor was remembered because he went to live with seals, that gave him powers too, but he seemed to have considered humans to be stink when he came back. But more recent history. My great-grandfather was the first Grand Chief of Canada. My great great grandma saved people from the Gas town fire, my other great grandmother resisted being removed from her home on the land where Park Royal mall is today.
One day, I’m sure my Great Grandfather will be forgotten… and so will the old people and what they did to make sure I had a better life. I’ve weeped about this on many occasions as a child. It’s not because our people have completely stopped the oral history, but we instead remember the history of the Kardashians and the Jersey Shore. I’m sure many ppl still remember The Hills and The Simpson’s episodes. But do they know family history? If we lose that history are we a defeated people? Maybe? Or. Maybe my ancestors had a wisdom. That should we ever come across a time where we face incredible trauma that interferes with the passing on of ancient history of times when our ancestors lived underground, and when our first people came down from the sky, and lightning gave us ceremonial masks. That if we couldn’t pass that on, it was for a reason. Like it or not, one of the first things I was ever taught was, “Everything happens for a reason.” I know it’s horrifying when thinking of the genocidal spread of small pox, the spread of tuberculosis, and the flu wiping out thousands upon thousands of my ancestors… and for the survivors of those great losses being treated as less than human right from the beginning… in their times of great grief and sorrow, they were introduced to Rum. In their grief and drunken state women were likely raped. Men manipulated into agreements they never would’ve made sober, and in a good emotional place. How many people do you know today who have sunken into a horrifying depression after the death of one family member, or a best friend? What self-abusive acts did they commit while grieving and drunk? Imagine the horror my ancestors felt in that grief and alcohol was brand new? Imagine, plenty of people were actually clean and sober and trying to help their relatives heal, And imagine before they could even come out of that grief their children being taken away to residential school? All that happened for a reason, you must be asking with rage or a sense of powerlessness. My elders told me, yes. It’s true. And, as far as I know my grandmothers, my great-grand mothers and great-great grandmothers would’ve believed this to be true. They’re the ones who lived through it, and they’re the reason why I’m alive today. They’re the reason why I know my precolonial history. To survive what they survived meant something. I may not remember the names of all my great grandparents and I still don’t even honestly know my great great grandparents’ names very well either. But, I do remember what people told me about them.
“They were sooooo kind. They were sooooo strong. They were sooooo powerful.”
When I’d hear those words it’d bring tears to my eyes. I wanted to see their eyes, and know the touch of their hands – it must’ve been like my great grandma Caroline’s who always had the most loving smile when she saw me, and my grandma’s loving smile when she saw me. I use to touch the wrinkles on my grandma’s face. And her elbows. I was fascinated with skin apparently lol. My ancestors, they must have had those same eyes and smiles as my grandma and great grandma. But from what I was told their prayers were strong and one great grandmother or great great grandmother was a dream interpreter. I believe if anyone needed to know something they’d ask the elders what to do. For ceremonies, for harvesting medicines. They were libraries worth of knowledge. And much was lost with them. It sounds like, if that knowledge was lost my people must not be successful, doesn’t it? But no. My history has taught me that kindness and generosity is the way we are supposed to live. Materialistic ways are harmful to not just the environment but ourselves. If we are consumed by consuming we are not busy doing what actually would make us full – relating. That’s probably why I like Facebook. Trauma makes it hard for me to relate with people on the level I’d like to. So I try to share on here. But what I was also taught is that we can always access the wisdom of our elders. If we pray. If we live in a good way. We don’t have to lose anything. Today, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council does not refer to languages as “Endangered.” They call them, “sleeping languages.” And my grandmother would say that when I was a child. Our language isn’t dying, it’s just asleep, waiting for people to wake it up. Today the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language – which my grandma spoke – is waking up. In her beliefs if she said it was dying, we were essentially killing it. Thank the creator for my grandmother in so many ways. She was a generous woman who was almost kind to a fault. But, I wouldn’t be who I am without her. If I didn’t get to see her and her kind example in my life, if I didn’t have those stories telling me people are remembered either as a good example or a bad example, I wouldn’t feel so responsible for learning how to be as kind, soft, and forgiving as she was. I never heard her say an unkind word. She never got mad at me or my sisters. Just once she got upset with us for being – guess? – unkind. I felt so bad for upsetting her, but I knew she’d forgive me, which made me wish to be a better person who she’d be proud of. One thing I feel like my grandma would do sometimes that made me sad, was that she’d very subtley imply she wasn’t too educated and didn’t know how to spell some things. And she’d feel bad she didn’t remember things sometimes. But, my grandma was honestly a genius with her kindness and devotion to her children and grandchildren and how she taught our cultural values. I feel honoured to remember her right now. That’s how it goes with my people. We feel like we’re never as strong or as kind as our elders were. “The old people were soooo strong.” No matter where I go on the coast. No matter what generation, “The old people were soooo strong.” We never feel we measure up. But, we have that same wisdom in our bones. We have that same strength. We will learn it in different ways. We will learn from books. Because some of our elders did share our language or culture or history with anthropologists and linguists and ethnobotanists. Revitalization is happening. But when it comes to legacies, we will forget. We will forget names. We will forget stories. Those who are remembered are honestly just kind of lucky. They’re lessons. How many people want to be lessons for others? In some ways I think maybe it’s better to be forgotten. But the legacy of kindness, of generosity, of compassion when someone was struggling. That lives on. That makes the world a better place. My grandma taught me kindness and forgiveness. My great grandma taught me compassion and bravery. My other great grandma taught me the importance of standing up for the future generations and protecting the land. Relatives I’ve not mentioned yet? My grandfather taught me doing what’s right despite the sacrifices… and building yourself up when you’ve got nothing. My grandma taught me the importance of working just as hard, if not harder, than your husband in doing what needs to be done despite the sacrifices you need to make. My great grandfather taught me how to beat colonizers at their own game. My ancestor taught me the importance of purifying the body and spirit to connect to the land for wisdom and guidance…. but also a lesson about holding grudges – the pros and cons of high standards of loyalty. My other ancestor taught me that if you go live with another species and learn their ways you’ll be disgusted with humans, at least for a while. I always suspected a piece of him never entirely got over that disgust.
I’m telling you all this now. But you may forget in the future. But there’s a chance I’ll teach you some of these things in my own way. Through my actions. And you might be inspired to pass on something to your children, or maybe you’ll unlearn some colonial thinking and that is where the memory of me will live. You have given me some sort of kindness or knowledge and I’m going to carry it on in how I work or what I teach and hopefully my kids will learn too. And these are the legacies we leave with one another. May we be humble people who are ok if we are good and bad lessons for another. And I pray our whole species learns forgiveness and grace of those who forgave us gracefully.