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We ARE the Environment

Last Wednesday, we were delighted to welcome our friend Jared Qwustenuxun Williams of Quw'utsun back to Culturally Committed. During his session, Qwustenuxun spoke extensively on the detachment modern societies have from our environment. Trees are often seen merely as resources, harvested without consideration for future generations; fish are caught to the point of depletion, and minerals are mined until all traces are removed. He went on to explain that, to First Nations people, these things are not just resources—they are family. We are all related, and 'when the environment thrives, we thrive, because we ARE the environment.'

Not too long ago, I used to perceive environmental protection as removing human intervention from the land. It seemed to me that humanity was doing a commendable job of depleting resources, and I imagined that preservation meant locking areas away to prevent further human-caused harm.

Reflecting on this, I recalled a recent conversation I shared with Culturally Committed Mentor Emily White of Tla'amin and Klahoose. She had learned that the term 'steward,' as in 'stewards of the land,' was problematic. Further exploration revealed that the word is firmly rooted in colonial ideals, meaning 'to be in charge of,' which does not encapsulate an Indigenous worldview. Emily shared that she didn't know if there was a singular word that adequately described the relationship Indigenous people share with the land. Instead, she introduced 'The Four R's' taught by Dr. Christine O'Bonsawin: Respect, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Relationship. Emily emphasized that 'Indigenous people live alongside the land, and we practice these four R's every day.'

Listening to Qwustenuxun speak about how First Nations people not only protected the lands but worked with the environment to strengthen them was eye-opening. The loss of these practices is evident in forest fires, rising temperatures, and the extinction of entire food systems. Now more than ever, it is imperative to invest in supporting the revitalization of these systems and practices before this knowledge is lost forever.

​I extend my gratitude to Qwustenuxun for his advocacy and commit to amplifying his voice while exploring ways to contribute further to environmental protection and restoration. Huy ch q'u Siem.

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