The West Was Never Won
by Dan Lewis, Tofino
Canoes were traditionally the main form of transportation on the West
Coast. Any place that looks like a good place to land, get water or
camp, is most likely a Native site. Often you can find signs of cultural
use, such as canoe runs, fish weirs, and middens.
Wilderness is a European concept. North America was wild, (in the
sense of intact, flourishing, self-propagating), before we immigrants
but it was not wilderness (in the sense of a place where humans are
visitors who do not remain). As Gary Snyder writes in The Practice
of the Wild, "The fact is, people were everywhere. When the Spanish
foot soldier Alvar Nez Cabeza de Vaca and his two companions were wrecked
on the beach of what is now Galveston, and walked back into Mexico
between 1528 and 1536, there were few times in the whole eight years
that they were not staying at a native settlement or camp. They were
always on trails."
I think the big breakthrough for me came just a couple of years ago,
right here in Clayoquot Sound. Bonny and I had volunteered to do
some sea kayak instruction at Hesquiaht Rediscovery, a summer camp
and non-Native youth. After our 2-day stint, we found ourselves unable
to leave. Camping in the wilderness with local Natives whose ancestors
had resided on that beach for thousands of years was a completely
different experience than visiting a similar beach were the people
since been moved to a central reservation. While in the past I'd
experienced wilderness, suddenly I found myself camping with people
who knew the
traditional name not only of the beach we were on, but all the other
beaches in the area, and also of the natural inhabitants such as
bear, cougar and wolf.
Kayakers seek solitude and beauty in wilderness settings. Yet the
beautiful beaches we want to land on and explore, are only available
as our private
recreation playgrounds because Native people have been removed. The
feeling we sometimes get, that we are the first people ever to set
foot on a pristine beach, is a direct result of colonisation.
Some people say we cannot be responsible for things that happened
hundreds of years ago. Yet we continue to reap the benefits of colonisation
today. I can travel through the traditional territories of various
First Nations, without having to request permission, without having
to acknowledge protocol, without having to pay any tribute.
Here in Clayoquot Sound, Native leaders speak frequently of respect,
and protocol. One way of showing respect is to take the time to learn
which First Nation's territory you are heading into when planning
a kayak trip. Good guidebooks, such as Kayak Routes of the Pacific
will contain this information. You can then contact the Band office
by mail, to let them know you would like to visit their territories.
When you arrive, you can drop by in person to let them know of your
plans. If there are certain sites they would prefer you not visit,
better to find out in advance, so you can change your plans.
Another way to show respect is to understand the designation of 'Indian
Reserve'. You need to be able to read them on a chart- look for the
letters 'IR' inside the reserve boundaries, which are shown by a
dashed line and/or the shoreline.
Many people think that Indian Reserves in Canada belong to First
Nations-they do not. Indian Reserve lands are owned by the federal
held in trust for First Nations. Non-native people are not allowed
to go on Reserve lands without permission. This is the least we can
do to show respect. As a Native friend of mine once told me, from
his point of view, all the lands belong to his people, yet they have
taken away by newcomers, and stripped bare by clearcut logging. Indian
Reserves are the one place he can expect to go, and not find white
people, constantly reminding him that his lands have been a taken
away. For him, it adds insult to injury to go to a Reserve, and find
people there without permission.
I used to be interested in the history of names on the BC coast.
While researching, I realised that I was learning more about British
history than the places on the coast. Many locations are named after
early explorers, traders, missionaries, and other folks who did much
to oppress Native peoples.
Lavina White, an elder of the Haida Nation once told my partner Bonny
to not use the names of the colonialists, but to use the traditional
names, the names of power, names rooted in place.
We found a report which describes place names in Clayoquot Sound.
The people are so intimate with the land! The names describe the place
to get a drink of water without getting out of the canoe (how convenient!),
the place to get urchins, the sandy beach sheltered from southeast
Kayakers are beginning to re-develop this kind of knowledge. Stories
are passed around campfires the evening before a crossing, marked
on charts, shared at club meetings, or on living room floors while
trips. But let us not be fooled to think that we are unique in having
this sort of knowledge. That Native girl at the fuel dock, probably
knows more about her area than we will ever know, even if she takes
it so much for granted that she has no sense of holding special knowledge.
We can't turn back the clock. It's easy to say that it all happened
long ago, and that it's not our responsibility to bear the guilt.
Yet we can take steps to become aware of our history, to understand
has been done to Native people by our governments, and to begin to
rectify the situation by showing respect for First Nations and supporting
their calls for justice.
Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures,
a seakaying company in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Visit their website or
call them at 1-877-422-WILD
Tofino seakayak expert Dan Lewis writes about the concept of wilderness, First Nations of Clayoquot Sound and etiquette for kayak trips and First Nations reserves.