Kitselas members from across Canada gathered for a five-day Elder Knowledge Sharing event.
From June 3 to June 7, Kitselas elders told stories, collected memories and wisdom to pass down their knowledge to future generations. This was the first time Kitselas organized an elder knowledge sharing event of this calibre.
The Kitselas Administration paid for travel and accommodation costs for approximately 40 elders from across the country to come and tell their stories in person, from B.C., Alberta and as far away as Nova Scotia.
Passing down centuries of knowledge from older members to Kitselas youth is important to building a sustainable future despite the destructive efforts of colonialism, says Kitselas chief councillor Judy Gerow.
“We’re losing a lot of our knowledge holders. We’ve lost a lot over the last decade,” Gerow says, noting knowledge and information was traditionally preserved orally.
“It’s important that we gather stories, that we gather memories, because we need to know what happened in the past. We need to know about traumas, we need to know about losses. We need to know about the sad things as well as the happy things so we don’t let it happen again.”
There were different themes for each day, including the Kitselas identity, reconciliation, and treaty. The information gathered will be used to put together a strategic framework document, Gerow says.
“We’ve heard so many times that the government in the past tried to eradicate us, to erase us. They’ve tried to get rid of us but we’re still here,” she says.
The last day of the talks happened as members of Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla, who represent the Nine Tribes of the Coast Tsimshian, temporarily blocked traffic on Hwy 16 to protest the B.C. government’s proposed sale of land at Nasoga Gulf, land that both the Coast Tsimshian and the Nisga’a Nation say has been part of their territory since time immemorial.
In response to the dispute Gerow says government officials need to understand the territorial complexities within the Tsimshian Nation and approach all seven bands for approval, not just one or two.
“I’ve heard it being said that things have started breaking up, there’s been issues between different Tsimshian communities, and it’s because of industry.”
She says there needs to be common ground established within the Tsimshian Nation bands to speak with each other and establish truth in territorial disputes.
“Before anyone makes announcements, there should be a discussion amongst the Tsimshian Nation. We need to stand united.”
As discussions came to a close, Kitselas members travelled to the Kitselas Canyon to reflect on the stories shared over the five days. The national historic site is where four longhouses, several totem poles and other rich cultural artifacts still remain from Kitselas’ 5,000-year history.
Christopher Harrison, 67, hasn’t been back in his traditional territory for 16 years. He travelled from Nova Scotia with his sister to take part in the five-day discussions.
His father, whose mother is Effie Bolton, was half Kitselas and half British. Because of past trauma and racial violence, Harrison says his father never told his children about their heritage.
“It was never spoken of or told to us,” Harrison says. “It was upsetting for our dad… I think he got into a lot of fights over being a ‘half Indian’. There were a lot of battles for him, and he didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Now his family is embracing their cultural ties, Harrison says he is grateful for what he has learned since coming back to Kitselas.
“It means I get to come home,” he says.