Water is a Transformer

This was one of the beautiful prompts offered last month by Stewardship Pemberton’s Climate Action Coordinator Andrea Blaikie in an Earth month takeover of their instagram account.

There is a creek that runs behind my house, and I have watched, over the years, as it has transformed the landscape it runs through.

I also have a beautiful Molly Costello on my desk, and the May image “Step In”, says “We can mend our relationships and step into the healing depths of accountability.”

Sometimes, witnessing the creek makes me think of the many ways we have dishonoured the landscape – atmospheric rivers 18 months ago came through with the ferocity of a woman scorned. A divine woman. So the creek is always nudging me in the direction of repair and I love that Costello says repair comes through accountability.

A good legal system is one which provides pathways for accountability. Which is why it’s interesting to share this resource, about Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water. Imagine all of us learning to practice being accountable “to the universe, the earth, the lands, the waters, air and natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable.” Accountability is also “to our ancestors, histories, societies, cultures, spirituality, belief systems, customary life ways, communities, extended families and families.” 

Better yet, imagine us remembering that this is always what accountability has meant.

An Indigenous framework for relating with the land, water and air feels like an interesting lens to apply to recreation and to the conversation started yesterday about the under-resourcing of parks and trails and recreation spaces across the province, across all these territories.

Traditional ways and laws have safeguarded land, air, water and communities for thousands of years. Honouring and integrating these teachings into current legal principles helps centre the needs of the land, water and beings. 

Explore some of the work that is being done in legal practice:

Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au – 
I am the River, and the River is me 
The Whanganui River was granted legal personhood in New Zealand in 2017.

Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water: St’át’imc Legal Traditions Report

“Water is a Transformer. The water shapes the land and the people in profound ways. In this sense, water is itself a Transformer, and elders stress the importance of respect and care in understanding its transformative ability.”

In the St’át’imc Legal Traditions Report, REVITALIZING INDIGENOUS LAW FOR LAND, AIR AND WATER, the context is set thus:

We are St’át’imc. We speak St’át’imcets. (Also referred to as Ucwalmícwts – the language of the people. ) Created by the Transformers, our home is situated at an intersection of deep gorges in the lee of the Northwest Coast Mountains now referred to as British Columbia. We have been placed here by the Creator to live and be stewards of this land. Our inherent responsibility is to live in mutual accord with all, to care for, protect and honor all living beings here. To us, this is ‘Nxekmenlhkálha’ (our ways/our laws).

Since contact, our way of life has been altered forever. Within just a little over a century: our people have been devastated by disease; our land has been under constant threat of theft; we have been designated as being wards of the Canadian government; and our people were exiled to reserves. Forbidden through Canadian legislation to practice our beliefs and speak our language, we were stripped of the fundamentals of our culture. Racism and abuse became the norm for us, as generations of St’át’imc children were stolen and placed in residential schools (government sanctioned institutions) where being terrorized and abused was the standard. In sum, we have been the victims to a system of cultural genocide. The past century has been devastating and tragic, not only for us but other first peoples across Canada. The truth is told. However, this portion of history is not our future. We are survivors! We are the epitome of cultural strength and perseverance. The Canadian government has attempted to extinguish us (our title and rights), to sever our obligations to the land, the plants, the animals, the medicines and ties to one another. No more! We rise above in unity and embrace sovereignty and the right to self-determination.

We embrace our inherent duties, responsibilities, philosophies, jurisdictions and authorities whole-heartedly. We will continue to embrace the unwritten systems of governance. Our Indigenous governance institutions and our cultural practices are integral parts that strengthen our relationship with nature, the environment and the ecosystems of our people. Even the practices of fishing, hunting, gathering and trading have a fundamental role that helps create the foundation of St’át’imc sovereignty and self-determination, by showing us that culture and biodiversity –the human and the natural world –are not separate. In fact, they are interdependent and constitute the reality of our world: A unified world, whose existence depends on the exercise of our self-determination.

Therefore, we rectify the imbalance that has been created. Our first and foremost priority is to collectively embrace our culture and nurture our ties to one another and to the land. Our second priority is to collectively ensure continuity, exercising and asserting our title and rights. This will be accomplished through a unified vision of a St’át’imc government. Our model of government is based on indigenous accountability and St’át’imc law.

According to Tom Mexsis Happynook, indigenous accountability “is being accountable to the universe, the earth, the lands, the waters, air and natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable.” Accountability is also “to our ancestors, histories, societies, cultures, spirituality, belief systems, customary life ways, communities, extended families and families.” Accountability means maintenance – as Indigenous peoples “we must maintain all that is important to us and be accountable to self-determination,” to ensure our voices are heard, our wishes are acknowledged and abided by as it relates to ourselves and this territory.

Our strength is in our voice. Establishing and maintaining a strong St’át’imc government and revitalizing our laws will strengthen St’át’imc self- determination and provide certainty that the natural order of things is our inherent responsibility bestowed upon us by the Creator. With an established St’át’imc government, what occurs on our lands and in our territory will be at our discretion and under our protection and responsibility.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s