ʔəy̓ sweyəl (Good Day)
Sanesh and I were both raised in Tsleil-Waututh Territory on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet so to honor the people of our home, we’ve decided to start and end this post with greetings in the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language.
This summer, Sanesh and I (and a few friends at various points) will be paddling in sea kayaks North from the territory of the Lkwungen Peoples to that of the Alutiiq Peoples. Our journey departs on April 16th, 2023 and will take 140 days (~3600km) to complete. Before we go, we must acknowledge the stewards of the land on which we will be camping and the waters on which we will be paddling. We will take time to provide some context for the interrelationships between the nations through which we’ll paddle, share what we have learned about the protocols of the people of the coast, and reflect on our role in the ongoing colonization from which these communities are working tirelessly to recover.
Why is it important to do this work? According to Federal Canadian Law, any lands below the highest high water mark are free to use for anyone. This affords permission to anyone to camp anywhere along the BC coast except in specific parks and ecological reserves. In Alaska, the story is similar with all government lands allowing camping. However, Canada and the United States of America are not the only land stewards on the coast, as Indigenous Peoples have been using, protecting, cultivating, and living on these lands since time immemorial. Much of the land through which we’ll be traveling is unceded, which means it was never given up by the First Nations and so there is no legitimate claim of ownership possible from any entity other than the nation themselves. Where there are treaties, it is important to respect them both in their legal definition, and in their spirit. We are careful to understand the differences in cultural, legal, and political situations of the places where we travel.
Sanesh and I had the privilege of spending time talking with, and learning from, Gidyaah Kii while we were in Haida Gwaii this summer. He's an archeologist and scholar who is an excellent communicator of Haida knowledge and values. During our conversation, he opened our eyes to some of the cultural lenses through which we see the world.
“We see the world not as it is, but how we are” - Gidyaah Kii (Sean Young)
This reminds us to do the work of reframing our perception of the relationship we have to the land. This reframing is uncomfortable and likely challenges many of our longstanding beliefs about the fundamental principles by which we live, but it foundational work if we are to achieve meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. We must be prepared to accept that places we are taught to be ‘wild’ may have been human occupied for thousands of years, and a site of use, story, and culture. Our route will take us through the waters that served as a ‘highway’ to coastal Peoples since time immemorial. To us, our expedition is a journey along a well-worn path. We hope to collect stories from those we meet along the way which can shed light on some of the ways this place has been - and continues to be - used, and cared-for.
Put into practice, we have partnered with the BC Marine Trails (BCMT) organization with the intention of acting as ‘Coastal Caretakers’. We will be relying on the campsite information they’ve gathered through their ongoing consultation with many coastal nations. We will also be adhering to the BCMT code of conduct best practices with regard to environmental stewardship. We intend to use our platform to introduce people to sea kayaking in a way that respects this fundamental truth. We will share what we learn about the territories, communities, and cultures of our coast; raising awareness of ongoing issues.
Our journey begins in the territory of the Lkwungen Peoples. Lkwungen means “Place to smoke herring”, Lkwung means “to smoke herring” and Lkwungen’athun refers to the language of the land. Lkwungen traditionally and still to-date unites the Esquimalt and Songhees peoples as one family. From there, we will paddle through the territories of nearly 40 Nations, with many more villages, families, and tribes throughout until we reach the territory of the Alutiiq / Sugpiaq. Sugpiaq means “real person” and it was the way the Peoples of this region self-identified prior to Western contact. Alutiiq is the way Sugpiaq people say Aleut - a word meaning “coastal dweller” derived from a Siberian Native language. This term was introduced by Russian traders as they visited communities along the Aleutian Island chain.
To help contextualize this vast area, it is helpful to use the categories of language, tribal region, and Nation to understand some of the myriad ways these peoples are distinct and also interconnected. The language families from Victoria to Cordova are the following:
Diving further, the tribal Regions/peoples whose waters we’ll be paddling through are:
Coast Salish (Salishan)
Oweekeno (Oowekyala / ’Uik̓ala)
Haida (X̱aaydaa Kil)
*We will include a list of all the individual Nations at the end of this post.*
We recognize the deep colonial roots of the outdoor industry. And that many of the foundational tenets of nature conservation, outdoor education, and wilderness recreation were intentionally created to limit Indigenous use of the land. Today, we are proud of the work that our partner organizations, gear retailers, and manufacturers are doing to advance reconciliation with the Nations in whose territory they’re based. We are happy to work with them help create an outdoor community that is accepting of diversity and inclusive of Indigenous ways of knowing and being.
We respect the sovereignty over land and water of all Indigenous Nations so we feel a responsibility to seek permission and respect protocols throughout our journey. To this end, we have drafted a letter of intent which we have sent to as many of the Nations' contacts as we could find. We recognize that not all Nations will have the resources to devote to speaking with us. We do hope, however, to spend the time required to build the strongest relationship possible with many of the Nations along our route.
hay ce:p q̓ə – Thank you all
Nathan and Sanesh
Nations: Victoria to Cordova (This list is extensive, but likely incomplete. We hope to add to it as our understanding grows throughout the expedition)
Wei wai kum
Wei wai kai
Gitga’at Lax Yuup