New Land-Based Whale Viewing Trail Opens on ṮEḴTEḴSEN

ḰENES SOȽ’s opening ceremony on June 22, 2023 honoured the W̱SÁNEĆ sacred responsibility to the relatives of the deep.

ṮEḴTEḴSEN is now home to a beautiful new land-based whale-viewing trail, ḰENES SOȽ.

ḰENES SOȽ arises from over a year of collaboration between W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC), Tsawout First Nation, and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). The new trail provides an opportunity for settlers and W̱SÁNEĆ community members alike to safely take in the beauty of KELȽOLEMEĆEN and other whales in a way that is less disruptive to the whales than watching on the water.

ḰENES SOȽ is part of a large network of on-land, whale-viewing trails that extend to the west coast. In this way, the existence of ḰENES SOȽ connects the W̱SÁNEĆ community to several other First Nations.

The ḰENES SOȽ portion of the trail is adorned with Coast Salish art that allows visitors to honour the sacred relationship between the W̱SÁNEĆ people and the KELȽOLEMEĆEN. There are two elaborately carved cedarwood benches by renowned carver Bear Horne and an audio box decorated by Iswalh Peters, a Coast Salish artist well-known for his Every Child Matters shirt design. When visitors turn the crank of the audio box, a prayer written by W̱SÁNEĆ knowledge holder Tiffany Joseph plays in English, French, and SENĆOŦEN.

The community officially recognized the trail through an opening ceremony on June 22, 2023. While Parks Canada and a representative from Saturna Island spoke briefly, the event centered around sharing by knowledge holder Tiffany Joseph. Several Saturna Island residents joined the ceremony and sat attentively as Joseph recited the prayer she wrote to bless ḰENES SOȽ. Elders expressed gratitude for the settler’s respectful participation.

Joseph was honored to be asked to write the prayer for this occasion. She saw it as an opportunity both to preserve SENĆOŦEN and to fulfill the sacred responsibility to the KELȽOLEMEĆEN. “We as W̱SÁNEĆ people have family ties to the killer whales, and especially the southern resident killer whales,” Joseph notes. “We have a great responsibility to them because of that family bond that we have, so I was really honored to be asked.”

In writing the prayer, Joseph tapped into “all those emotions of love and excitement and beauty” experienced while watching KELȽOLEMEĆEN.” Joesph shares, “I think it’s easy for people to love killer whales. They’re very beautiful. And so I wanted to tap into that beauty as well.”

Additionally, she wrote with her children in mind. “My children were a big part of my prayer because I really want them to know the gifts of the experience of writing this prayer for the killer whales,” says Joseph. “There’s so much beauty in our spirituality. There’s so much beauty in our relationship to these sacred beings. Our sacred bonds and responsibilities as W̱SÁNEĆ people in our language and how everything is connected is so important and I hope that I am teaching them that.”

Joseph translated the prayer into SENĆOŦEN with the help of the SENĆOŦEN Elders and the language committee for the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council. “It was such an honor to be able to learn from the Elders in that way,” Joseph shared.

After Joseph offered the prayer, the participants enjoyed food blessed by one of the Elders, who said, “I’m just so grateful for this beautiful day and all the beauty that the Creator provided for us to be able to experience today.”

Joseph shared two special, behind-the scenes moments that made the ceremony day even more powerful. First, when community organizers were “approaching the island, they had to stop because a killer humpback whale was going by. So it’s almost like a humpback whale had welcomed them to the island.”

Then, as Joseph and others tested the audio box before the ceremony began, they found that it was not working. Joseph asked her grandmother to bless the audio box. Only after the Elders prayed over the land and blessed the site, and after Joseph recited the prayer during the ceremony, did the audio box start working again. Joseph sees this as intentional, sharing, “I think that happened on purpose. I think it was meant to be for me to read out the prayer for the people there that day for them to hear.”

W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council is grateful for this opportunity to care for the KELȽOLEMEĆEN and preserve SENĆOŦEN through the creation of ḰENES SOȽ, and looks forward to continued efforts on behalf of the W̱SÁNEĆ community.