The WLC’s community engagement sessions will continue to create an inclusive approach to nation rebuilding, as well as marine and land use planning.

Traditionally, community engagement conversations would occur around the fire or at the longhouse. This is how issues impacting the community would be discussed and plans would be made to make things better.

“The Indian Act continues to disrupt us from our traditional practices and is very divisive. Oftentimes, when we connect,  it’s not always in a healthy way.  We need to learn how to build trust with each other and gather in a way that creates a safe space for sharing our thoughts openly while respecting the diversity of voices in our community,” Shauna Johnson, the WLC’s Marine Use Planner, reflects.

In her community engagement sessions, Johnson wants to hear your ideas and thoughts, no matter how small or large you think they are: “It’s important that every voice and every idea is heard from all community members. The only way we are going to effect change in our community is to do it together. We each have a role to play in doing this. What is your role in the community? What are your responsibilities as a W̱SÁNEĆ member to participate in making a better future for our people and all our relatives of the land and sea? ” Johnson then examines all responses looking for shared understandings, common threads and patterns. It’s this data that’s used to inform the plans. 

“This plan and the community engagement process provides us with concrete steps and a unified direction for how to make decisions for all matters that impact us as W̱SÁNEĆ people. We need to talk about the Douglas Treaty, education, health and economic development. What I really want our W̱SÁNEĆ  people to know is that this plan is theirs. It can’t be done without their full participation in community engagement events. We’ve been so conditioned to think our opinions don’t matter, our voices don’t matter. And, so we are often absent from decisions that impact our lives. It’s just another way we’ve been silenced. The community engagement sessions are to break that silence,” Johnson shares.

These community engagement sessions are critical to creating the territory-wide Marine and Land Use Plan (MLUP) for the marine and land environments. A multi-year initiative that began in Oct 2019 and will complete approximately Sept 2022, the MLUP planning process is broken down into 5 phases: 

1. Where have we been?
2. Where are we now?
3.Where do we want to go?  ← We are here
4. How will we get there?
5. Have we arrived?

The overall project timeline has been slightly adjusted due to COVID – 19: Phase 1 and 2: October 2019 – September 2020 Phase 3 and 4: September 2020 – May 2022 (subject to change based upon engagement progress) Phase 5: June 2022 – August 2022.

The results of the sessions so far can be found in the Blackfish Newsletters, which provide regular updates on the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council Marine and Land Use Plan for the W̱SÁNEĆ Territory.

Eric Pelkey, the WLC Community Engagement Coordinator shares the importance of these sessions, “One of the obstacles we First Nations face is that we were previously called ‘Indian Bands’ which created the artificial division of Tseycum, Tsartlip, and Tsawout. One of our aims is to break down these barriers and unite again as the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation. This division is another one of the diseases the colonizer spread. We are in process of rebuilding the structure of and teaching the people they are all part of this; with one language, one united government.”

In addition to community engagement sessions encouraging dialogue on future plans, the WLC also hosts sessions that are intended to revitalize and reclaim W̱SÁNEĆ culture. The hugely successful Celebration of Culture in December 2020 was the first community engagement session to kick start regular ongoing community engagement sessions. Another example of this type of initiative is the WLC’s support of the W̱SÁNEĆ Tribal Journeys crew, which last took place in the summer of 2019.

Over three weeks of paddling, W̱SÁNEĆ community members followed ancient routes, visiting 19 different Nations through Beecher Bay, Puget Sound, to Tacoma and back. The journey ended in Lummi with over 50 W̱SÁNEĆ community members staying for a week of song, drumming, and stories.

Eric Pelkey, reflecting on the experience, said: “It was the first time in a very long time the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation had come together to participate in Tribal Journeys. Our community members learned how to make our regalia and presented our leaders with the traditional regalia worn when representing the W̱SÁNEĆ nation. It was a historic occasion for W̱SÁNEĆ people, a moment of pride, where we could teach other Nations about W̱SÁNEĆ. It’s an example of what can happen when we come together. Currently, Tseycum, Tsartip and Tsawout are working together, and hopefully, Pauquachin will join us. Community engagement will revive and bring us back together.”

As a part of the Tribal Journeys movement, the WLC will be providing new Tribal Journeys Canoes to encourage increased participation and representation of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation in Tribal Journeys.

This year’s community engagement sessions will include sessions to inform the community of the work being done, as well as other smaller projects including workshops to help community members get their Possession and Acquisition Licence as a prerequisite for participation in the Fur to Forest Initiative. Other initiatives are being modified to ensure safety during the pandemic.

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“What I really want our W̱SÁNEĆ  people to know is that this plan is theirs. It can’t be done without their full participation in community engagement events. We’ve been so conditioned to think our opinions don’t matter, our voices don’t matter. And, so we are often absent from decisions that impact our lives. It’s just another way we’ve been silenced. The community engagement sessions are to break that silence,” Shauna Johnson, Marine Use Planner, WLC