I live in Squamish traditional territory, Skwxwú7mesh Temíxw, and I have spent the last 19 years of my residency here as an uninvited guest trying to learn a little about the land and sea, and the traditional teachings that have found a home here for tens of thousands of years.
This month I have joined dozens of others in taking a course from my friend Ta7táliya and her family and friends called Mi tel’nexw which in Squamish means “figure it out.” It’s a leadership course that is rooted in Squamish ways of knowing and being (you can join anytime at that link.)
Our first class was last week, listening to the teachings of Skwetsimeltxw, who spoke about Squamish history and teaching from the perspective of sp’ákw’us, the eagle. As part of the course, we are invited to articulate takeaways and giveaways, naming the gifts received and how we will offer gifts as a result. This cycle of reciprocity is essential.
So here are a couple of takeaways and giveaways that are sitting with me.
Everything starts with the land. As obvious as this one seems, it’s important to remember. I take away from this insight the idea that when doesn’t know what to do, stop and see where you are, what is the land or sea saying about this. It is the ultimate source of everything. The other day I was up at Rivendell Retreat Centre, where I am a Board member, and we were talking about the gardens and outdoor space there. People come to Rivendell from all over the world to experience contemplative practice through silence, hospitality, simplicity and prayer. The practice of simplicity invites us into a powerful, open and basic relationship with the natural world, and my friend and I were discussing how we could make the gardens of Rivendell embody the hosting that the land does so that visitors to our centre could practice outside of our beautiful rooms and sanctuary, attuned to the blessing of the natural world. This territory begs to be loved through every expression of the land and the sea and so my giveaway is to put that lens back on the land at Rivendell and to work with folks to help us help spiritual seekers find the simplicity in that teaching.
Ceremony strengthens you so you can stay positive. My takeaway here is how important practice is. Ceremony that ties me to the land and to the community, brings me into a relationship with the natural world, the supernatural world and community in a way that makes me accountable for the way I spend my time in this life. Skwetsimeltxw shared a teaching of revered Squamish Elder Louis Miranda: “Don’t be afraid of death – we are only here camping for a short time. Don’t waste a day while you are here.” Ceremony gives us names, helps us over the transition of life’s markers, through grieving and loss, through celebration and abundance. Daily practices helps us to live well so that we can take care of what we have. My giveaway is to a practice that shares the beauty and goodness of my life and to this end I have deleted my social media apps from my phone to manage my energy and attention.
Take care of the things in your temporary possession. Squamish culture, like most west coast traditional cultures, is heavily based on property and ownership. The myth that indigenous people don’t have concepts of land ownership is patently false everywhere. Here on the west coast where potlatching is the governance system, all of the property of the nation – including land and places, stories, names, responsibilities, and resources – are placed in the care of someone. The laws and the rules are very strict because care for these fundamental things is essential to the survival of a people. (and yes removing these systems is a form of genocide, set on destroying a people through banning potlatching and ceremony, and stealing these possessions). Skwetsimeltxw said that when a person is given a name, it is not theirs to own but theirs to carry for a while and “polish during your life.” The takeaway for me is a teaching about stewardship and how we are to care for the things that come into our possession. For me this means that names I have like “Art of Hosting steward” confer responsibility to ensure that when I no longer carry that title, it has been made better for those who pick it up. My giveaway is to examine the various names and identities I carry – Board member, Bowen Islander (Nexwlélexwm uxwimíuxw), settler, Canadian, father, husband, facilitator, – and to live them in a way that people encountering these identities in others – especially in those I teach, train and raise – will recognize them as honourable. It is my work to transform an identity like “Canadian” conferred by my birth into this colonial land, or to try to live up to the high standards of a word like “father” that has been given to me by my dad and children.
“Prayers and love, once they are put down, stay where they are put.” This is a direct quote from Skwetsimeltxw and it refers to how Squamish people, living in this territory for tens of thousands of years, have prayed and loved every inch of it from time immemorial. The love and prayers of every ancestor lie upon the rocks and mountains and waterways here and my takeaway is that this land is soaked in blessings. Everywhere you walk or sit is a place that has been stewarded since the beginning of time with care and affection and deep spiritual connection. My giveaway is gratitude and an attuned sense of this sacredness. When Skwetsimeltxw uttered this sentence, I felt a complete and overwhelming sense of gratitude for the fact that I live in a place that is literally covered in love and prayer. Open to the sacred appreciatiation of the stewards and owners of this territory, inspired to attune myself ever deeper to what is really here.