Words from Cowichan Elders
Words from Elders
Cowichan Elders play a fundamental role in the holding and transmission of cultural knowledge and teachings. Therefore, it is very important that students, teachers and the public hear the voices and words of Cowichan Elders.
Many Cowichan teachings are directly and indirectly connected to the building and maintaining of relationships. For the Cowichan people this is a fundamental understanding of how the world works. The necessity of care for relationship(s) extends to the physical and spiritual worlds in which the Cowichan are entangled. Relationships are a fundamental component to understanding and working with indigenous communities.
As it relates to Ye’yumnuts, the maintenance of relationships are directly connected to the ancestors who still inhabit the area and Cowichan peoples’ responsibility for the ancestors' continued safety. This responsibility also extends to the general public who live within the traditional and unceded Cowichan territory.
For the purpose of this website, Cowichan Elders were asked three broad question to help guide people in navigating their relationship with ancestral spaces. These questions are important to think about as you begin to learn about and visit Ye’yumnuts. The questions were asked by university students participating in the Commemorating Ye’yumnuts project. The answers worth thinking about by all visitors of Ye’yumnuts.
What should students know before starting work at Ye’yumnuts?
- Always look after yourself and be mindful that you are working in a place that Cowichan ancestors continue to inhabit.
- You have to go slow, this kind of requires time and patience to build an appropriate relationship with our community, the living and the spiritual.
- You need to know about where you are going to work and who the Cowichan Tribes are as a nation but also as people.
- It’s hard to know how much you can share with people you do not know and are only working with Cowichan for a short time. How do you prepare someone for being at a place that we have specific people, who have trained for decades?
How do you feel about having young people at Ye’yumnuts?
- No, young people shouldn’t be there [where the ancestors are buried]. They lack the knowledge and training. There are lots of traditional and cultural reasons that young people should not be around the ancestors. This is based on millennia of Cowichan experience.
- As Cowichan people, we know we are responsible for the safety and spiritual well-being of visitors in our territory, whether they know it or not, and so we need to remember that if someone gets hurt, spiritually we bear the responsibility and must correct it immediately
Do you have any recommendations for future work at Ye’yumnuts?
- Students should meet with an Elder(s) at the beginning of the work and spending time listening and learning before starting any kind of work.
- An Elder(s) or guide(s) should be working with students from the beginning and throughout the course of the work. This should not be an afterthought or for seeking knowledge rather it should be something that is built into the work from the beginning.
- You should have a way of closing the work. For example [referring to archaeology students], a bath or brushing off ceremony.
- You always need to open and close work in a good way to ensure the safety of people.
Quotes from Elders
In 2004 a project was undertaken to talk with elders from Hul'qumi'num speaking communities about respectful interaction with ancient sites and objects, reciprocity, knowledge, and law among other topics. The following document includes some excerpts from the report that was written as part of this project. These quotes can be used to help guide proper interaction with and being at Ye'yumnuts.
McLay, Eric, Kelly Bannister, Lea Joe, Brian Thom, & George Nicholas. 2004. 'A'lhut tu tet Sulhween "Respecting the Ancestors": Report of the Hul'qumi'num Heritage Law Case Study. Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group.
Cowichan Elders sharing teachings
The following videos were produced from an interview with Cowichan Elder Luschiim conducted by UVic's Dr. Brian Thom, Tommy Happynook and Bradley Clements in the Cowichan Tribes Lands boardroom on November 24, 2017.
Several important themes emerged from the interview which has been edited and organized into two videos discussing the sacredness and interconnectedness of Ye'yumnuts.
These videos are an important starting point for anyone who wants to begin to understand Ye’yumnuts and the Cowichan.