The November rains pour down with only brief respite; inside, we gather over good food and practice our thigh spinning with flax tow and nettle, hearing stories from those who’ve lived by the waters of the land, and sharing our gratitude.
This Weaving Conversation Circle was facilitated by Kamala Todd, with a welcome by Tracy Williams and thigh-spinning instruction led by Sharon and Rebecca. Sharon and David prepared the meal and tea.
A few of the participants had practiced thigh spinning with us before, but most of them were new; Sharon and Rebecca are getting more deft in their ways of explaining the process, though, and most folks were making good headway within a short time. Again we were working primarily with the flax tow for practice, and moving on to the nettle when we could produce a tightly spun line.
Here is how Kamala summarized the Circle’s storytellers:
Tracy Williams (Squamish Nation) gave a welcome. She shared some of her own journey and work with plants and learning traditional methods and materials. She spoke of the plants and animals as teachers, and how critical that knowledge is. She spoke of people who know how to work with these traditional plants as specialists. The language is important to ‘reconnecting to who we are as Squamish people’. She emphasized the importance of the relationship with the land, as well as our responsibilities to the land.
Sharon and Rebecca gave a quick lesson in thigh spinning. Sharon talked about the importance of learning our ancestral ways, how we used to process the plants. She spoke a bit about the project overall, including working with nettle, flax, and fish skin– and the technologies of working with these materials to make things like fish leather and fishing nets. Rebecca noted the value of asking How did the First People speak to the plants? How do we connect with the plants?
Rosemary spoke about her family living in this area since time immemorial. She is part of a fishing family, and she comes from a long line of fishermen. Fishing and being on the water were normal to her, just what her people did. A boat was her first home! She learned to walk on a boat! Her family used troller boats. Not gill nets. As she grew up she took on more and more responsibilities of fishing. She shared a story of being assisted by a Japanese fisherman when she was young, and how she and her father had a feast hosted by a group of Japanese fishermen, which remains one of the most memorable meals she has ever had. She spoke about the “language of fish”. It used to be that BC was top in the world for quality of fish, when quality was the most important. And then things shifted to emphasis on quantity, and people moved to gill nets to get a bigger catch. She spoke of how before 1960, her family would work all year gathering from the sea, including digging for clams in the winter. They were always working on the water. She was always happiest on the ocean, and being around fish. The ocean is part of her and her people. They have always been connected to the water, they move with the tides,
the weather. Everything is connected to the water.
Shaun spoke about his family’s active involvement in fishing and how they created the
cooperative Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery. He gave an interesting overview of some of the labour history of fishing in BC, noting, for example, how many communities were involved in fishing, but the CO’s ‘tried to keep the races separated’. He spoke about the labour war in the late 70s, and how fishermen came together, namely the United Fishermen and Allied Workers and the Native Brotherhood.
Carmen spoke about how she is a 3rd generation BC’er, and how her Grandparents received free land in the Barriere area, but in her youth she didn’t even know the name of the First Nation whose land she was on. She has been learning over the years to recognize the ‘layers of stories’, including internment of Japanese-Canadians, and how we are part of a long, complicated and not-so- glorious history. She has been interested in recent years in bringing back the waters that once flowed throughout Vancouver. She works to help clean up the Renfrew Ravine, and Still Creek. She is happy to report that salmon have been coming back to the stream. She thinks it’s important to remember that this land keeps us alive.
A conversation with some of the participants followed these storytellers; much of it revolved around the theme of discovering the stories of the land, reconnecting with stories and land, and gratitude, reciprocity, and healing with and thanks to the land. Most memorable for me were the words of Haruko Okano, who told a story from her own life about a long journey on the land and the healing she experienced from it, and ended with the conviction that she knows how much she owes the land, and endeavours to show her gratitude every day.