A new video report on the impact of the Clam Garden Restoration project for the W̱SÁNEĆ community has just been released.
W̱SÁNEĆ’s ŚW̱,XELOSELWET (Tiffany Joseph) a trained filmmaker, was asked by Parks Canada to create the video, which highlights the impact of the project on the participants.
Participants of the Clam Garden Restoration project spent 5 years working to restore clam gardens in W̱SÁNEĆ territory. In addition to improving the ecology of two clam gardens, the project also aimed to reclaim W̱SÁNEĆ knowledge, practices and culture related to clam gardens.
Beyond knowledge reclamation and ecological restoration, the project resulted in additional positive outcomes for the participants and the community at large. Learning in an intergenerational way and being able to cultivate and access reinstated food systems were significant benefits to being involved in the project.
ŚW̱,XELOSELWET shared her experiences related to the project:
“The removal from our villages on the Gulf Islands greatly impacted our wellbeing, physically, spiritually and emotionally. It’s healing to see intergenerational groups together and to experience it. I was there one day with my nieces and nephews and my cousins as well as my elders. Before colonialism, it’s how we would have travelled together in our canoes, with our longhouses in tow and depending on the season, we would have participated in building and harvesting the gardens.”
The knowledge transfer between elders and youth that occurred throughout this project reflects the old ways of educating youth. Instead of sending children off to school, learning took place together on the land. The benefits of this educational approach were highlighted while working on the project. For instance, by learning how to rebuild the clam gardens and dig the clams, many other topics naturally came up. In this way, the youth would learn the sciences, the food systems, how to read the weather, what moon we are in and what each of them mean.
Tiffany shares an example from her personal experience of going out to the islands with W̱SÁNEĆ elders and community members,
“May Sam was teaching us how to make clam necklaces, for which much preparation is needed. The clams first need to be dug up, dried and then put on a rope necklace, which would then be used for trade. One step in the process is loosening the clams, which means wrapping them in cedar and then stepping and dancing on them. We were doing this and May had us stepping and dancing and it reinforced the teaching that we must always have ÍY, ŚḰÁLEȻENS (good thoughts and feelings) when we’re handling food. These are the kind of experiences the elders are wanting to happen year after year. ”
This kind of intergenerational learning also benefits the Elders as it brings them back to how things were when the elders were kids.
“Everyone involved enjoyed working on the project. It promoted youth involvement and engagement. To see Elders reconnecting with ancient cultural practices along with their grandkids and great-grandkids. Our hope is to be able to do this on our own again, one day. The reasons we can’t and don’t is because of intergenerational oppression of W̱SÁNEĆ harvesters – it was empowering. It reclaims our old ways of being,” ŚW̱,XELOSELWET says.
The project highlighted the links between W̱SÁNEĆ people’s health and wellbeing and that of the land and their plant and animal relatives. W̱SÁNEĆ technology and natural laws provided mechanisms to keep the ecosystem in balance, ensuring abundance. Reinstating the relationships W̱SÁNEĆ people have with the land and with their relatives results in a restabilization of traditional food systems.
ŚW̱,XELOSELWET explains “The SENĆOŦEN word for Islands is ṮEṮÁĆES which means ‘relatives of the deep’. Our elders tell us of the importance of connecting with our relations and I am reiterating it. HELISET means ‘let it live.’ These beaches, before the project, were filled with black clams. With the reintroduction of clam gardening at these sites, they clams turned white again. We learn again how much the wellbeing of the land is contingent on and desires our interaction when we engage in the prescribed ways.”
The video captures the wisdom, experiences and stories of the W̱SÁNEĆ Elders and Clam gardeners involved in the project.
Joseph shares an observation from the interviews,
“Interestingly, Parks Canada hired all-male clam gardeners, when it isn’t a gendered role: “it’s always been a family affair” as our elder and teacher JSIṈTEN said. It’s important we take the time to imagine how the inclusion of women’s engagement, shown visually, would benefit the community and how it could reach more community members. When you can see people who look like you doing things you haven’t done before, it’s easier to imagine yourself doing them. It’s easier to see your value.”
While the first part of the Clam Restoration Project has drawn to a close, the Canadian Conservation and Restoration Program has allocated funding for phase two, The Sea Garden Project which will also last five years and draw on the knowledge captured in the first phase.
Watch the video, here: