Heshook-ish Tsawalk: Everything is One
There is something in my soul irrevocably stirred by Indigenous cultures that continue to share their culture and knowledge with me. Maybe its my European lineage that runs through my blood, an ancestry that was part of spreading the ideology of extractivism, an ancestry of unjustly taking from the land and from people. The darkness spread by this could be indefinitely listed, its legacy lives all around us, though, is not felt equally. I struggle to identify with that heritage, I feel critically disconnected. I prefer to discover more from other cultures, like the worldview of Indigenous cultures that I’ve grown up around, including the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe Nations in Northern Ontario and Nuu-cha-nulth nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I have grown to be an ally of the Indigenous cultural revitalization and decolonization movement, which is simultaneously a process to regenerate the planet. Reflecting on this, and thinking about this space where I write about environmental transformation, I decided to navigate these ideas by touring the pacific waters where I live in a traditional dugout canoe with Tla-o-qui-aht business T’ashii Paddle School.
On a summer-like day this April, a small crew of us set out on a traditional dugout canoe in the Tofino Inlet with a new guide to T’ashii, Clayton, from nearby reserve Ahousaht. He shed new perspectives on familiar spaces, and told family stories, from canoe racing to animal transformations. In the very front of the canoe were two friends – a couple, both laughing and enjoying the moment. Behind me was Clayton, sharing with us beautiful knowledge on cultural stories, lessons, and histories embedded in the landscape. In her latest book on capitalism and the climate, Naomi Klein gave one of the conclusions of our eras biggest dilemma: only love will save us. Ultimately its our love for existence that pushes us to persevere to protect it. I thought about Indigenous cultures who are among the most powerful leaders in creating action on climate change, and the host of other environmental issues underneath the ever-diminishing umbrella that is our atmosphere. After colonialism, Indigenous cultures could very well not share any more information, open their hearts, and canoes, to outsiders. Here on the coast, among many other places, this is not the case. Of course, there is caution to what is shared, but the care for the land continues to be more powerful, and a source of tenacity for Indigenous Nations on every continent. The love for the beauty of humanity and the earth that keeps cultures persevering despite crazy odds. I think one of the most powerful ways this is embodied in the present is through Indigenous cultural revitalization, which is simultaneously a process to regenerate the planet.
We glided through the black ocean waters, holder of our existence as well as the earths deepest secrets. On the topic of climate change, I asked Clayton what he thought the role of Indigenous nations is in challenging the issue of climate change, the issue to exacerbate (+ connect) all issues. He explained that its how his people travel, for instance, he mostly bikes and walks everywhere. At that very moment we were not telling stories in a vessel fuelled by oil and gas, we were travelling in a dugout canoe. The owner of Tashii, Tsimka Martin, added to this as we talked about how Indigenous cultures are rooted to place; many wonders of the planet, like Canada’s remaining rainforest, still exist because of the defence of Indigenous people, and supporting allies who live here. Many sacred places continue to be part of the billion year dance of evolution on behalf of the defence of the people who have evolved with those spaces for thousands of years. We leave urban cityscapes and suburbanized zones in search of these protected places that inspire every cell of our being. For an overwhelming amount of people, the intrinsic connection between our presence and our environment is not represented in our quotidian thoughts and actions. For descendants of Europeans like myself, we are not rooted, and as transportation becomes cheaper and more accessible, the craze for travelling climbs higher among those of us considered “peesh-mupped”, a Tla-o-qui-aht word that Tsimka told me is used to described people who are not rooted.
T’ashii also does stand up paddle boarding tours around the inlet! Photo via tofinopaddle.com
This conversation brought my mind to wonder about the term “wanderlust”, worn fashionably by travellers of all kinds, from elites to gypsy vagabonds. I feel it overtake me, too. In a way, I think the desire to keep travelling, and seeking more is a result of this not being rooted. Travelling can reawaken reverence in our somnambulant bones, and in one way it benefits humanity when its done respectfully – for example, when people from afar come here and learn about Nuu chah nulth culture through local businesses like T’ashii Paddle School. Unfortunately, many travellers are not motivated to learn more about the decolonization/revitalization movement. Travelling and expanding our sense of the world can fill us with gratitude, however, no matter the outcome, it still amounts to more greenhouse gas emissions warming our undeserving turtle island. The issue of travelling is not black and white, I think its important that if we do travel that we do it coming from a place of mindfulness and care. Travel to learn about cultures, travel to help heal the land where you visit, network and make connections with other people that are a part of this movement and by doing so strengthen solidarity. Influence other travellers to do the same, we teach and learn from every person we encounter. Travel in your back yard and go on a tour like T’ashii. We must make sweet use of everything around ourselves. When we do put down roots, even for a short time, we can learn to become conscious of our relationship with the land and surrounding community. The connectedness to place is a wise lesson we need to reflect on and learn about in supporting Indigenous allies in this age of decolonization, cultural revitalizion, and the pursuit to positively transform our shared planet.
Tsimka explained to me in her home that Tashii means path on land or on water. These paths are interwoven in this temperate rainforest region, from the salmon that fertilize the cedar trees, to the cedar trees returning to the water as dugout canoes. On local ecology, Tsimka explained that its
“great more people can learn about it, people are waking up to it. A thought came to mind how Indigenous knowledge and Traditional Ecological Knowledge often has to be proven by science to believe it, in some ways, thats valid, depends case to case, because there was such a huge interruption, time for us to be re-observing those things. To us its ongoing study and observance, the two are coming together more, philosophy of heshook-ish tsawalk, being shown more through different examples – salmon is a huge one, so massive and so scary. Salmon are like the last of the buffalo then all you have is farmed cow, or farmed fish. Here in Clayoquot Sound, the salmon fish farming industry is huge and a large part of the local economy, but undermines the economy of our environment as the wild stock of salmon continue to massively decline”.
Heshook-ish Tsawalk is the worldview of Nuu chah nulth nations which means everything is one. Nuu Chah Nulth writer Richard Atleo sheds light on the connection of science and Indigenous worldview, “recent discoveries in physics now challenge earlier ideas that space and physical objects are separate. It turns out that they are not. Einstein’s theory of relativity says that matter cannot be separated from its field of gravity. This theory shattered the nineteenth century assumption that space and matter are separate. Fritjof Capra maintains that the reality of the universe is not so much described by matter and space as by a quantum field in which are found local condensations of particles (matter), or concentrations of energy that come and go” xiii. We are learning from a variety of sources that nothing is separate, everything really is one, Indigenous worldviews and quantum physics tell us this same truism. As Tsimka eloquently put it, “cultural revitalization and environmental regeneration one in the same, true indigenous identify is all about that. Word environment did not exist, so weaved into culture, so in tuned and in harmony”.
I sat in tears as I began to write this words upon finishing the dugout cedar canoe tour. Clayton was touched by our interest and love in the tour he gifted us. My heart continues to expand as I learn from the lessons of Indigenous nations around me who still share their perspectives, which are so valuable to the soul of the planet and for the transformations needed so desperately. I finish writing these words today in inexplicable gratitude. This morning at a Green Breakfast environmental meeting in Tofino held at Common Loaf Bakery, Naomi Klein happened to be hanging out. I was so awestruck to see a hero of mine, an incredible environmental writer and supporter of Indigenous cultural revitalization. I told her how I quoted her earlier in this piece, so for her, and every other person who reads these words, saving our planet depends on love for ourselves, each other, and the diversity of wonders on this planet – a delicate, wild, web that spins stories, culture, and indescribable beauty.
check out T’ashii’s Tours and Blog here – https://tofinopaddle.com
Further Reading … and Watching!
Indigenous filmmaker Alice Obomsawin…all of her films are absolutely stunning and capture the history of Indigenous nations in Canada, which shares the very underrepresented and undertaught realities of the first people of Canada.
Robin Wall Kimmerer. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City. Edited by Lisa Charleyboy.
Richard Atleo. Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth worldview.
Jeff Corntassel. “Re-envisioning resurgence: Indigenous pathways to decolonization and sustainable self-determination”.