People of the Land: Legends of the Four Host First Nation-Summary by Isabella Lam
Citation: Nelson-Moody, A., George, G., & Joseph, T. (2009). People of the Land: Legends of the Four Host First Nations. USA: Theytus Books.
Accessibility of Resource: May be ordered online (Amazon), or speak to your school librarian.
Before going further, I wish to acknowledge the ancestral, traditional and unceded Aboriginal territories of the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations in Metro Vancouver on whose territory we stand. Thank you to the Elders from each these nations for sharing their knowledge, teachings and cultures with us.
Respectfully Isabella Lam
Description of Resource and Rationale
The “People of the Land: Legends of the Four Host First Nations (FHFN) Lil’wat | Musqueam | Squamish | Tseil-Waututh” is an oral storytelling book that provides a unique commemorative collection of sacred legends shared by the Elders of each nation, to reflect upon the unique cultures, traditions and philosophies of the FHFN whose ancestral territories provided a beautiful setting for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (Nelson-Moody, George & Joseph, 2009, p. 7). Photographs were also taken to capture and represent the landscapes along the river of the FHFN. I have selected this innovation because this resource demonstrates the initiative that Indigenous people are actively taking to extend their cultures to the community by sharing their stories/teachings with non-Indigenous people (Olympic and local visitors) who come from all parts of the world. As the Lil’wat Nation states: “We have our own culture, our own history, which we want to share with Olympic visitors. We want our entire community to be involved. It is an experience of a lifetime for us” (Nelson-Moody, et al., 2009, p. 9). It is evident that Indigenous people want non-Indigenous people to learn about their cultures, knowledge and traditions, which is a positive step forward towards reconciliation. As Regan (2010) explains, by being opened to listening and understanding the history of Indigenous people, we can then truly move towards reframing societal relationships that respects the epistemological and pedagogical foundations provided by Indigenous and Westernized cultures. Consequently, by engaging students in understanding the realistic portrayal of Indigenous knowledges and cultures, we can then begin to alleviate the common concerns, confusions, and complications of settler/Indigenous relationships that Dr. Jeanie Kerr has shared with us last class (J. Kerr, May 23, 2015), and to challenge the Western education system to remove its tokenizing of Indigenous cultures; removing the systemic barriers that many Indigenous students currently face today (Battiste, 2013).
Geneology of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation People
During my group’s oral presentation, I shared a story called “Watsauk Siem” from the Tsleil-Waututh nation. The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation is Coast Salish people from the northwest coast of BC, they are also known as the “People of the Inlet’ and their traditional territory reaches from the Fraser River in the south to Mamquam Lake in the north, near Whistler (Nelson-Moody, et al., 2009). Tracing back to the geneology of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation people, it is evident that their lands and waters have shaped their culture and community, as the Tsleil-Waututh Nation states: “We have always been here, and we will always be here. Our people are here to care for the land and water” (Tsleil-Waututh Nation, 2015, Our Journey section, para. 1). Their ancient culture and survival is based on a seasonal round, which involves a complex cycle of food gathering, hunting, and spiritual and cultural activities throughout the year (Tsleil-Waututh Nation, 2015, Our Past section, para. 2).
The role of Tsleil-Waututh knowledges were clearly portrayed in the story of “Watsauk Siem”; the Elders highlighted the ancient culture of Tsleil-Waututh people by describing Watsauk as a truly extraordinary leader who dedicated his life to the Spirit of his people, and appreciated the gifts that he has received from his land and resources (Nelson-Moody, et al., 2009). For example, the story exemplified his respect for salmon by always making it his duty to graciously welcome the salmon back every year and ensuring that they are well protected, as the salmon was a staple food source for his people during the long winter months (Nelson-Moody, et al., 2009). Additionally, the Elders illustrated the intimate relationships that the Tsleil-Waututh people shared with their animals and lands by speaking about how Watsauk was escorted down through the Inlet in a cedar canoe by two killer whales to his final resting place; symbolizing the interconnectedness that the Tsleil-Waututh people shared through love and their relationships to one another and to their environment (Nelson-Moody, et al., 2009). In sum, the stories/teachings that the Elders share in each of these nations demonstrate the significant role that Indigenous knowledges play in shaping the cultures and traditions of our community.
Benefits and Challenges of Resource
The benefits of using oral storytelling as a way of sharing Indigenous knowledges is that it supports the oral traditions of Indigenous people. It is important for students to understand and experience the history of Indigenous people by continuing on with their traditions and cultures. As the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) (2012) states: “The maintenance of oral tradition is considered critical in virtually all First Peoples culture, and effective integration of First Peoples texts will include opportunities for students to experience stories in their oral form” (p. 14). In doing so, students will come to appreciate and respect the ‘gifts’ of oral storytelling. Consequently, as part of the oral tradition, listening skills are also critical in traditional First Nations cultures (FNESC, 2012). As Dr. Jo-Ann Archibald has shared with us during our first class at the UBC longhouse about the house post of three human figures by Chief Walter Harris, “listening twice as much as speaking” is an important lesson taught by the First Peoples (J. Archibald, personal communication, May 9, 2015). By sharing these stories to our students in oral form, students will begin to make connections between the cultures and lands of Indigenous people to their own cultures and lands, and soon come to realize that the land in which they live and play on actually belongs to the ancestors and now their contemporary descendants of Indigenous peoples. Students will then have a better understanding of what ‘colonization’ has done to the cultures and lands of Indigenous people, and the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people. By developing an accurate understanding of the past, we can then begin to move forward with reconciliation efforts and make ‘space’ for Indigenous history and contemporary realities y (Regan, 2010).
The challenges of using oral storytelling as a way of sharing Indigenous knowledges is that students may question the authenticity of the ‘stories’ that are told in the book. They may assume that these ‘stories’ are fictional because of how the characters are depicted in the story. For example, in the “Watsauk Siem” story, it may be hard for students (especially older students) to believe that Watsauk was carried safely through the Inlet in a cedar canoe by two killer whales (Nelson-Moody, et al., 2010). Consequently, I could also see my students in Grade One associating this story as a fairy tale because it may appear ‘magical’ or ‘make-believe’ to them. However, the FNESC document “In Our Own Words” (2012) has provided a list of responses that could be used in the event of a student questioning the authenticity of these stories. The general consensus behind these responses is based upon redirecting students to understand the purpose/moral of the story, and the important life teachings/lessons of the cultures and traditions of the Indigenous nations. For example: “The purpose/moral of the story is ______, and that’s the most important truth” (FNESC, 2012, p. 10). Additionally, the purpose of oral storytelling, and especially in the ‘People of the Land’ storybook is really for Indigenous people to share their history and knowledges with non-Indigenous people, and for non-Indigenous people to come to understand, respect and appreciate the culture and land that has generously been passed down thousands of years ago by their Indigenous ancestors-lands which remain unceded and still occupied by the Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
Applying this Resource to my Teaching Practice
Reflecting back on my group’s oral presentation from last week, along with the collaborative feedback from our cohort, I firmly believe that oral storytelling is a great activity to use for any ages (K-12), as each of the stories demonstrate important life lessons/teachings shared by the Elders of each of the four nations, however; younger students will require more prompting/redirecting during the story, and older students will require more engaging/open-ended questions to help them critically reflect on the story. Photographs are also accompanied in each of the stories to assist younger students with using pictures to understand the story, and allowing older students to see the sovereignty of the cultures and lands of Indigenous people.
In my current teaching practice, I would engage my students in oral storytelling by asking students to think about the teachings from the stories and connect them to their own experiences. Prior to using this resource, I would ensure that the stories I share from the book represent the area(s) of where my students live in or are familiar with, as I want my students to connect Indigenous knowledges to their own culture and place. As the FNESC (2012) states: “It is important for all students in BC to have an understanding of the culture(s) of the First Peoples in the area in which they live” (p. 12). I would begin the lesson by taking my students outside for a nature walk to first make them aware of their surroundings by using their five senses (e.g., what does nature look like, sound like, smell like, feel like and taste like?). By taking the learning experience outside, students will be able to feel that they are part of a living oral tradition, and be able to connect Indigenous cultures to the land/environment (FNESC, 2012). Then, I would invite my students to find a comfortable space outside, whether sitting upright or lying down and listen carefully to the story. While I’m reading the story out loud, I would ask my students to close their eyes and encourage them to make ‘connections’ from the narratives in the story by making pictures in their heads while activating their five senses (sight, hear, smell, touch, and taste). For example, I would ask my students to think about what a salmon would look like, sound like, smell like, feel like and taste like. After the story, I would regroup with my students and ask them to share the connections that they have made with Indigenous history and compare the similarities and/or differences to their own culture and land. Alternatively, students may also share their connections through the use of a Venn diagram to record or draw the similarities and differences of Indigenous cultures compared to their own cultures. By allowing students to visually compare their own cultures to those cultures shared by Indigenous people, students will begin to see the commonalities that they share with Indigenous people, and hopefully come to understand that our cultures are not in ‘separate worlds’, but rather in unity and relationship with one another.
As a follow up activity for my students to reflect critically about the lesson/teachings of the story, I would ask my students to demonstrate their learning and understanding of Indigenous history through the use of drama. As FNESC (2012) explains, an effective integration of First Peoples learning method is to provide students with ample opportunity to demonstrate their learning through the use of varied forms of representation, which would include drama. As demonstrated in my group’s oral presentation last week, I used the improvisation game “word ball” to provide the class with a fun and interactive way to review the connections that they have made in the story by challenging students to connect words from the story/teachings through associating the word(s) from the first word that pops into their heads (Kelly, 2014). Additionally, “word ball” also allows the class to actively engage in oral storytelling as well because they are telling a story through the association of connecting words from the story.
As a closing activity to reflect upon the story and ‘word ball’ activity, I would ask my students to find one object from nature that represents something that they have learned about throughout the lesson; either the cultures/teachings of the Indigenous people, their own culture or something that represents both their culture and those of the Indigenous people. After students have found their object, they will be asked to stand in a circle and share a word or story about the connections that they have made between their object and the lesson/teachings of Indigenous people. Consequently, the significance of circle work is that “circles are universal places of connection that invite paradigm shifts” (Regan, 2001, p. 19). Once students have shared their word/story, they will be asked to place their object in the middle of the circle and wait until everyone has shared and placed their objects in the circle. Once all of the objects are placed in the middle of the circle, students will be given one to two minutes to reflect and look at all of the different objects that were shared by their peers. The purpose of this closing activity is to symbolize that all of our cultures (objects that were chosen from students) coexist in the same space, and on the same lands (where we are currently standing). In closing, I will remind students that we are not living in ‘separate worlds’ from Indigenous people, but rather, we are all part of one living community; sharing our culture and space with one another.
Battiste, M. (2013). The legacy of forced assimilative education for Indigenous peoples. In Decolonizing education: nourishing the learning spirit, p. 23-33. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Limited. Retrieved from https://connect.ubc.ca/webapps/osc-BasicLTI-BBLEARN/iframe.jsp?course_id=_63456_1&id=librar&
First Nations Education Steering Committee. (2012). In Our Own Words: Bringing Authentic First Peoples Content to the K-3 Classroom. Retrieved from: http://www.fnesc.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/In-Our-Own-Words-final-Apr-16-web.pdf
Kelly, E. (2014). Improv for Teachers: A Lesson Plan. Retrieved from http://emerkelly.hubpages.com/hub/improv-lesson-plan
Nelson-Moody, A., George, G., & Joseph, T. (2009). People of the Land: Legends of the Four Host First Nations. USA: Theytus Books.
Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within: Indian residential schools, truth-telling and reconciliation in Canada. In Foreword by Taiaiake Alfred, the introduction and part of chapter 1, p. 1-18. Vancouver: UBC Press. Retrieved from http://www.ubcpress.ca/books/pdf/chapters/2010/UnsettlingTheSettlerWithin.pdf
Tsleil-Waututh Nation. (2015). Tsleil-Waututh: People of the Inlet. In Our Journey section. Retrieved from http://www.twnation.ca/About%20TWN/Our%20Journey.aspx
Tsleil-Waututh Nation. (2015). Tsleil-Waututh: People of the Inlet. In Our Past section. Retrieved from http://www.twnation.ca/About%20TWN/Our%20Journey/Our%20Past.aspx