Chasing the sun into the land of Tsawalk

Writing from Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island which is about as far west as you can go without leaving North America.  I’m here this week to run an Art of Hosting training with a number of community coordinators for 14 Nuu-Chah-Nulth communities around Clayoquot, Barkley and Kyuquot Sounds.  We’re going to be learning together about methods for community engagement and participatory leadership and all of it based very deeply in the concept of Tsawalk (from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth principle of “heshook ish tsawalk” meaning “everything is one.”)

Last night I drove out here across the spine of Vancouver Island, from Departure Bay on the east side, through Port Alberni and along the shore of Sproat Lake, through the pass and down to the west coast.  It’s a landscape of high mountains, big trees, big clearcuts and huge beaches.   Everything is scaled so big that you can’t help feel small and humbled in this landscape.  And to beat it all, last night I chased the sun across the island and it beat me to the open Pacific.  By the time I made the turn for Tofino it was pitch dark and the sky was ablaze with stars and the Geminid meteor showers littered the heavens with fireballs and frequent streaks of light.

The first time I ever cam to BC, in 1989, I came here, or more precisely, I stayed a week in Heshquiaht, on the north edge of Clayoquot Sound, visiting with my friend Sennen Charleson and his family.  Sennen died a few years ago in a road accident in northern BC, and I can feel his presence here in land from which he spent many years in exile, but which always called him strongly.  There is a riotous complexity to the rainforests of the west coast, and a presence unlike anywhere else on earth.  Everything is quiet, knowing that you cannot make more noise than a storm from the ocean or the clatter of rain through the canopy.  Human noises disappear here, like a the ripples from a pebble tossed into surf.

I’m excited to be designing a three day learning experience here with some apprenticing mates, Norinne Messer and Laura Loucks.  We are using the framework of tsawalk for our work together, a concept that is deeply rooted in the Nuu-Cha-Nulth worldview and that influences everything from resource management to spiritual ceremony to the role of community.  It is forming the basis of a unique partnership that will produce a marine use plan for Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds, and over the next few days, we will look at how tsawalk informs our work with communities, influences design choices for community engagement and self-development.

One of the processes we will be using is based on the Nuu-Cha-Nulth spiritual practice of “oosumich” which is a form of prayer and self-knowledge that helps us to access knowledge from the interior worlds of spiritual source, individual persoanlity and community.  It is a form of investigative methodology that is complimentary to science, which examines and makes sense of the external world.  Working together with these methods, we can come to a holistic understanding of the world, a practical expression of tsawalk.  For those of you familiar with Otto Scharmer’s work, this is very much a Nuu-Chah-Nulth version of his Theory U.  The main difference I think is that oosumich is a spiritual practice, intended to connect with the spiritual aspects of the world that we can also understand materially.  Oosumich itself is a secret and a scared practice, but what we know of it can be used to work in leadership learning and process design.

Some of the basic values that are involved in the expression of tsawalk are aphey (kindness), isaak (respect) and he-xwa (balance).  As I sit here designing today, I am thinking very carefully about how these three basic show up in hosting work.  Some of my preliminary thoughts are:


  • being helpful for the common good (“hupee-ee-aulth”)
  • paying attention to good relations and increasing more of them (an appreciative approach to growing community)
  • ask for what you need, offer what you can (PeerSpirit Circle principles that apply to Nuu-Chah-Nulth life from the way in which people help each other with work, food gathering and preparation and ceremony)


  • every voice has it’s place. When we hear a voice of dissent or confusion, it is not out place to judge it, but rather to figure out how it is related to the whole.  If tsawalk is the principles, there can be nothing outside of that, and so all voices have a place.
  • all creation has common origin and we pay respect to that common origin by acknowledging the relationships that are present in the world.


  • balance comes from having a core, which can be a purpose or a solid centre or a ground
  • the world is a constant balance between energies that create and those that destroy.  Balance is not a static point in time, but a dynamic practice.  We have to learn to be sensitive to imbalances both in the external world and in the internal world.  Where there is too much red tide, people notice, and they know it means something is out of balance with the marine environment.  When there is too much chaos in a meeting, it means that people are confused and more order and clarity has to be found.

All of these ideas form the basis for some teaching, for some play and learning.  I’m thrilled to be here.


  1. hey cuz, please let the old grannies know that i miss them. that magical place where the trees and the forest around it are stewarded so beautifully… i miss the island drives with you. send a hello to norine too!

  2. Will do my friend…and to Melody too when she shows up! You’d love to be in this one…working so explicitly with Tsawalk.