Central Saanich Today

Tsartlip First Nation

All part of the Saanich Nation of Coast Salish peoples, the Songhees, Esquimalt, Tsartlip, Tseycum, Pauquachin, Scia'new, Tsawout and T'Sou-ke Nations are all important bands that have long called Southeastern Vancouver Island home.

The Tsartlip First Nation is a First Nation located on the Saanich Peninsula, in Saanich territory on Vancouver Island. They are a member of the Sencot'en Alliance fighting for Native rights.[1] In the 1850s they were signatories to one of the Douglas Treaties.[2]

Tsartlip First Nation is an economically active, independent First Nation, whose Chief and Council are leading several projects which will generate revenue to be reinvested into Tsartlip Community.

In 2014 Tsartlip opened a gas station and convenience store on their reserve. Tsartlip is currently developing the Gowdy Meadows property into townhomes. The community is not party to any economic development related Agreements with the Provincial Government.

Tsartlip means “land of maples” in SENC'OTEN, the language of the Saanich nations. It is watched over by YOS (Malahat Mountain) one of the most sacred places of the First Nations people on southern Vancouver Island. In the background of the picture you will see the beautiful land of the Tsartlip.

All of Saanich Peninsula is covered by the two treaties signed in 1852 between Saanich Nation and the colonial governor, James Douglas. See R. Wolfenden, "The Indian Land Question," 1875: Douglas Treaties. The North Saanich (Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout and Tseycum) Treaty and the South Saanich (Malahat) Treaty total 26,900 hectares. It is essential to understand that Saanich societies are primarily organized according to complex family relationships rather than on a tribal basis and that they - still today - reflect close marriage ties with other Coast Salish communities.

Tom Sampson on the left conversing with Federal Fisheries Minister, Herb Dahliwal and Provincial Environment Minister Joan Sawiki at Lester Pearson College on the occasion of the formal announcement of the creation of the Race Rocks MPA .

First Nations conservation expert Tom Sampson believes that “Our concept of harvesting of the land and ocean are based on the 13 moons of the year—the absolute time clock of nature, ” he explains. “We managed our resources by understanding this clock, which meant there was a right time for everything, and a time we weren’t allowed to harvest.” Tom has organized sessions on the 13-moon concept as part of his work on the Race Rocks marine protected area, where he has worked to improve cross-cultural understanding and appreciation for the traditional knowledge his people bring to the table. “It’s important that people understand that when we talk about the land we’re talking about a relationship that goes back thousands of years,” he says. “we know this land better than anybody else.”

Furthermore, Tom believes that listening is the key to understanding the environment. He remembers his great grandmother telling him to go down to the beach and listen to the ocean, because “if you don’t listen to it and hear the stories, you won’t learn”. Listening to each other is just as important to Tom, and he believes this skill is not being taught to most young people today.

Among many of the skills that are coming back are those of carving, masks, nahnum, potlatch, powwow, storytelling, and totem poles.

First Nations artists keep old traditions alive and create new ones with brilliant totem poles and carved objects. “For so long we’ve been afraid to do something new because it was not traditional,” Davidson said. “Experimentation is important. If it works, it becomes part of the culture. If it doesn’t, it falls by the wayside.” Robert Davidson, a member of the Haida tribe, who is among a group of contemporary artists infusing fresh life into the rich history of First Nations art.

The masks of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast are powerful objects that assist us in defining our place in the cosmos. In a world of endless change and complexity, masks offer a continuum for Native people to acknowledge our connection to the universe. Like totem poles, Indigenous masks depict different symbols used in the stories of a tribe. The masks carved for a tribe are used for ceremonial purposes. The most common symbols on masks and totems are the Thunderbird, killer whale, frog, salmon, beaver, bear, wolf, raven, sun and moon.

-Chief Robert Joseph (Down from the Shimmering Sky, 1998)

The ceremonial masks of the Northwest Coast display animals, humans, forces of nature and supernatural beings and play an integral role in Coastal First Nations culture. These objects recount a time when magic ancestors changed themselves from supernatural beings to human forms at specific locations along coastal waterways and rivers. It is these locations that designate the territorial boundaries and homeland of over one hundred independent village groups. Images of these ancestors are displayed on storage chests, utensils, totem poles and  monumental carvings, dance blankets, and ceremonial regalia, but recreating this magical past is most dramatically done through the use of masks in elaborately staged theatrical events. The purpose of these performances, is of course to impress, but more importantly, it is to validate the ancient and honorable history of the mask owner's family.

For centuries, people have gathered around Sacred Fires to pray into burning tobacco, one of the four sacred Medicines of First Nations Peoples. The smoke carries their prayers to the Creator. All are welcome to visit. Absolutely no alcohol or drugs are allowed since this is sacred space. The Sacred Fire has become a source and symbol of strength and divine connection to the Creator. The sacred fires that help us govern our community gatherings, ceremonies and prayerful expressions as Indigenous Peoples, continues to be a way for our struggles to be refocused into clear understanding and clear direction about where we take challenges and painful issues facing our community.

First, a decision has to be made as to where the fire is to be lit. The grounds are then blessed with Sacred Herbs and Special Prayers. Large stones must be collected and placed around the spot where the fire will be. Firewood must also be collected, making sure there is enough to last throughout four days of burning, which is the normal time frame for a Sacred Fire. Sometimes small stakes with ribbons are placed at four openings to the fire. This represents the four directions. A special lighting ceremony takes place and then people may begin to do their offerings and there is always a Fire Keeper available to help guide you. At the end of four days, there is a ceremony for letting the fire burn out.

The word "potlatch" means "to give" and comes from a trade jargon, Chinook, formerly used along the Pacific coast of Canada. Guests witnessing the event are given gifts. The more gifts given, the higher the status achieved by the potlatch host. The potlatch ceremony marks important occasions in the lives of the Kwakwaka'wakw: the naming of children, marriage, transferring rights and privileges and mourning the dead.

The purpose of the potlatch was to:

. To publicly recognize class structure and status

. To pass on a family’s rights and privileges or inheritance. Such rights include:

. Rights to land, property, fishing holes, berry patches, hunting grounds, and beach fronts.

. The right to specific dances, songs, stories, and the right to display animal crest designs of a family’s clan.

. The right to wear, use, and display certain regalia and objects that indicate leadership: hats, blankets, dance aprons, carved benches, shield-shaped copper plaques, masks, painted housefronts, and carved posts.

· To celebrate marriages, the naming of babies, and the passing on of chief titles, names held within a family, and names that indicate leadership

· To honor important people who have passed on

· To comfort those who have lost a loved one

· To recognize the lineage of a family and renew the community’s ties to the ancestors

· To celebrate the people’s relationship to the animal spirits and to give thanks

· To restore one’s reputation in the community after a humiliation

What is a pow wow? A pow wow is a celebration of dance, drums and songs - they are a tradition, a festival, a competition, a reunion, an arts and crafts venue, a food fair - one word cannot encompass the many facets of a pow wow; they are a feast for all five senses.

There are a few thoughts on the origin of the word pow wow. Some hold that it is an adaptation from “pau wau”, an Algonquin word for "medicine man" or "he who dreams”. Others sources say its origin lies in the Pawnee word pa-wa, meaning “to eat”. According to Merriam-Webster, the word is either Narragansett "powwaw" or Massachusett "pauwau".

Generally speaking, pow wows originally were gatherings to celebrate a successful hunt or victorious war party and the dances seen at today’s pow wows have their roots in those events. Under the Indian Act, pow wows were forbidden unless sanctioned by the government for parades and celebrations.

There is a spiritual component to powwows and many traditions are inherent in the dances. Elders teach the dancers the spiritual knowledge they need to be good people and effective leaders. To be a true powwow dancer involves more than just the movements in the dance; it’s a way of life.

First Nations, Inuit, and Metis cultures have long passed on knowledge from generation to generation through oral traditions, including storytelling. Storytelling is a traditional method used to teach about cultural beliefs, values, customs, rituals, history, practices, relationships, and ways of life.

First Nations storytelling involves expert use of the voice, vocal and body expression, intonation, the use of verbal imagery, facial animation, context, plot and character development, natural pacing of the telling, and careful authentic recall of the story.

Totem poles are monuments created by First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events.  Totem poles are typically created out of red cedar, a malleable wood relatively abundant in the Pacific Northwest, and would be erected to be visible within a community.

Most totem poles display beings, or crest animals, marking a family’s lineage and validating the powerful rights and privileges that the family held.  Totem poles would not necessarily tell a story so much as it would serve to document stories and histories familiar to community members or particular family or clan members.

When a totem is complete, the raising of the pole is cause for celebration that includes a potlatch. Attendees from near and far converge followed by several days of festivities. Totem poles are not simply unique works of art, they are stories. Stories that link First Nations with their past and represent their future. A true testament to the resilience of the First Nations in British Columbia to keep their culture and traditions alive.

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