As shadows lengthen in the evening sun to close out a warm August Thursday, I:sot (Lisa Thomas) sings out a Kwantlen welcome song in strong, warm notes.
She’s signalling the start of another summer walking tour by Kwantlen First Nation.
Mimethalot (Elinor Atkins) and Sesmelot (Fern Gabriel) join in the singing.
Gabriel explains how songs serve many functions – prayer, welcoming, farewells, apology.
“Especially now that the Fraser River is shut down for conservation of the salmon stocks, I share those oral traditions and oral histories to remind mainstream society that our people never wasted anything, all parts of the animal were used or eaten,” she said.
This is year three for the summer walking tours funded by Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
“We do go rain or shine. I tell the participants that rain is cleansing,” she chuckled. “We’ve had, at a couple of tours 50 people.”
Each tour is different, with its own vibe.
“The stories come to me as we walk along,” Gabriel explained. “One day a crow was standing on a gravel pile on the side of the road. I told the group that someone in the crowd needed to be reassured that ‘justice’ has been addressed. There is a higher order than the laws we know now but one of human nature. It’s the natural order of right and wrong, and the judgement was in your favour. And there were tears in our participants’ eyes.”
The Aug. 18 evening tour at 7 p.m. takes place under a sturgeon moon so the tour will have a lunar emphasis as participants learn about the Kwantlen view of the moon and its place in their culture.
On the tour Gabriel shares pre-contact Kwantlen stories, origin stories, morality tales, information the natural wonders of the place the Kwantlen have called home for thousands of years. The tours started as a way to spotlight vulnerable species.
“The Seyem Qwantlen’s Brenda Fernie along with Ashley Doyle started this wonderful idea to understand the Species at Risk in our Fraser River,” she explained.
On the tour, participants become part of the tales. Gabriel uses their names in tales whether they are about honouring nature for providing food by not being wasteful or how rocks hold the history of the community.
People are now coming from around the Lower Mainland for the tours.
“I want people to be educated about the Kwantlen people and that we are still here as a thriving and vibrant society that has always actively participated in the economy of Fort Langley community,” Gabriel said.
And the tours encourage people to learn about a culture not their own.
“It’s part of the reconciliation. Educating mainstream society is a passion of mine,” said Gabriel, who also works in the Surrey School District.
How times have changed.
“There was a time when I was told to be quiet and no one wanted to listen or hear about that ‘Indian shit’. That was said to my face by ‘friends’. But now people are listening to me and the walking tour is that platform on which to do this.”
– Watch future editions for more in the series about Kwantlen First Nation.
Kwantlen First Nation series: