By Alison Cuffley, Indigenous Relations Manager for JGI Canada. Photos by Tilaï Ellis-Stairs.

I’ve been reflecting on the importance of language lately. I recently learned about the term “iisaak”, which is the highest law of the Nuu-chah-nulth constitution and roughly translated to English means “to observe, appreciate, and act accordingly.” Respect. As an Indigenous person, I’m also keenly aware that the language I’m fluent in was forced upon me, and that the language of my ancestors (downriver hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓) is inextricably linked to the land and our culture. Without the connection to language, then the connection to, and respect for, land is also lost.

Photo: Tilaï Ellis-Stairs

That’s why it was an immense privilege to join the Uncovering Common Ground (UCG) Final Forum – a gathering of young leaders on ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ ḥaḥuułi (Tla-o-qui-aht ha’houlthee), what is now known as ‘Tofino’ –  to learn how youth from across Turtle Island practice their own version of iisaak. Youth were able to share about their UCG projects and future goals, form connections, and build on their work from the past year. 

Photo: Tilaï Ellis-Stairs

We learned from Tribal Park Guardian Terry Dorward about the history of the Wanachus-Hilthuu’is (Meares Island) Tribal Park and the important role that Ethical Space holds when looking four, ten, and 250 years towards the future of land-care practices. We discussed how young people can lead their own communities towards environmental security and sustainable livelihoods using guiding principles of their own distinct cultures. 

Photo: Tilaï Ellis-Stairs

Renowned canoe carver Joe Martin and his brother Carl toured us around their carving shed, explaining how the crests and totem poles constitute the Nuu-chah-nulth constitution. They shared stories behind a community pole they had completed last year, and taught us how to read the meanings of each figure. The bravest of us were even able to try our own carving skills on a gorgeous cedar sculpture!

Photo: Tilaï Ellis-Stairs

Through the Uncovering Common Ground project this year, I’ve been able to meet and learn from a phenomenal group of youth who are uplifting their cultures, teachings, and languages to empower each other towards hope through action. From community medicine gardens to cultural sports gatherings, ecological monitoring and outdoor survival to wellness through art; the young people who partner with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada inspire me to see the change that I am able to make in my daily life. 

I want to thank our wonderful partners for their dedication and kindness over the past year: Assembly of 7 Generations, G4 Health, Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Nuu-chah-nulth Warrior program, and T’Sou-ke First Nation. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work alongside, in reciprocal relations, with all of you.

hay čxʷ q̓ ə 

Alison

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