Meet Jackie Ohayon, the ȻENEṈITEL Program Coordinator for the WLTS

Read the transcript below to learn more about Jackie and the impactful work she’ll be doing with the W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society.

Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

My name is Jacqueline Ohayon, but most people call me Jackie. I’m originally from Quebec, I am of settler ancestry – French on my dad’s side and English British on my mother’s side, so I’m very new to this land.  

I’ve been living in W̱SÁNEĆ and Lək̓ʷəŋən territory for about a year and a half now, so I’ve been learning a lot. I moved here to pursue my studies in law, I attended law school back in Quebec and wanted to understand more about what law can do to promote more climate justice, promote Indigenous rights and livelihoods and how to sustain Indigenous law. 

Interviewer: Can you share some of the background & experience that brought you to this position?

I moved here originally to start my master’s in Indigenous law. I focused on Indigenous governance and climate Justice. What brought me to work more closely with W̱SÁNEĆ was that I’m a student on a grant called Infrastructure Beyond Extractivism. Through that Grant, I got to know the absolutely wonderful Professor Robert Clifford or YELKATŦE, who is from Tsawout.

I worked with him on his field course in revitalizing WSÁNEĆ law, and Rob was amazing. I was lucky enough to be a teacher’s assistant in that class, but really I was a student too and learned so much about WSÁNEĆ and the land here and got to understand a little bit more about the laws of the land and what could be done to help support that and all the wonderful projects that are going on. So when this opportunity came up, I couldn’t pass it by because I really wanted to, especially when finishing that field course, I wanted to contribute in any way I could.

It’s a dream come true to be able to not only think about these issues theoretically but also work with incredible, incredible people who are not only thinking about this but practically implementing it and saying, okay, great, we recognize this now. Let’s do the work. It’s really such an honour.

Interviewer: Can you share with me your title and what kind of work you’ll be doing?

My title is the ȻENEṈITEL program coordinator, ȻENEṈITEL means “helping each other”.

The foundation of the program is to help develop, implement and build climate-friendly solutions that are embedded in W̱SÁNEĆ law, W̱SÁNEĆ values and beliefs. These Solutions aren’t only acted out in a year or two years while funding is available. It’s done in a way that’s actually sustainable so that these actions can be carried out by the W̱SÁNEĆ community forever. That can be self-sustaining and not dependent on either exterior funding or programs from the government.

It’s hard to work within that framework when you want to be building something sustainable. The ȻENEṈITEL program is within the WSÁNEĆ Land Trust Society; the idea is that the WSÁNEĆ Land Trust Society acquires land. It’s great to acquire land, and it’s great to enact to land back, but then you have to restore land you have to also make sure that once you’ve restored this land, it’s not settlers that come, and that are doing the restoration work, that it’s the community that’s involved in the planning and the activity building.

My goal is to get myself out of a job in a way, it’s kind of a funny way to say it, but that’s how I see it. Right now, the capacity within WSÁNEĆ to do internal policy building or to carry out a lot of these actions it’s very limited, and the people who do have this capacity are overworked, so the goal is to create these programs and to create this internal build so that in the future, there’s enough capacity within the community to do this work.

Interviewer: What kind of impact do you hope to have during your time with the WLTS?

I’m coming at this job with a lot of humility, so I don’t think I have an impact in mind necessarily. I think there’s an intention that I bring to this position, and that intention is to really immerse myself as much as I can. I’m working with a lot of internal conflicts here because, on one side, I really want to help push this forward, but on the other side, I’m not W̱SÁNEĆ. 

I’m coming at this from a position of privilege in that I’ve had a lot of Education that helped me get to this job. Ultimately, the whole point of my job is to make sure that people like me aren’t needed to fill these gaps. That’s why I feel like this is my role and my place to step in to do this.

The intention that I’m bringing is really to respect, uphold, and Empower the W̱SÁNEĆ Community to do things in the W̱SÁNEĆ way. I think that learning more about how to live in a sustainable way with the lands, not just environmentally but also just in informing those relationships with the original stewards of these lands, especially because I see myself living here long term and forming real long-term relationships here. That’s another intention that I bring to this position is to build relationships with the people that I’m working with, the community that I’m serving, and the lands that I’m working on.

Interviewer: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I love the ocean. It’s funny because I never thought I’d live out here. It wasn’t ever on my radar—the only reason it came on my radar is the master’s program—but I’ve always loved the ocean. I’ve always loved the water. I feel best when I’m in the water. That’s my go-to. 

I have a wonderful Community here, too, that likes to hike and Surf and do all the fun things outside with me, so that’s always really fun. I’m a big tree nerd. Learning about the different ecosystems here fascinates me. I also really enjoy listening to live music and going to shows

Interviewer: Is there anything else you’d like the community to know?

It is a very involved interesting, and dynamic position but one of the main ways that I see it is in forming relationships. Relationships are so important to me, and it’s something that I relate to a lot with W̱SÁNEĆ because of that central piece of relationality.  I’d like to invite the community to please come chat with me if they have any questions.

I really value and am honoured to have this trust. I take it with a lot of responsibility and aim to use whatever skills I have to bring good and honour those relationships.

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