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How Will You Celebrate Canada 150?

Confiscated Masks

When deciding how you will be celebrating Canada 150, please consider how these 150 years have impacted indigenous people. Since 1867, indigenous people have gone through hardships that have led to dispossession of lands and waters, a disconnection from culture, a reduced sense of identify, and a loss of lives.

When deciding how to celebrate Canada 150, please consider the indigenous children forced from the hands of their parents to attend residential schools. Residential schools left parents without children, and children without parents. It erased indigenous languages, practices, and many indigenous lives.

When deciding on how to celebrate Canada 150, please consider that from 1885 to 1951— 66 years— a potlatch ban was enacted that forbid indigenous nations on the Pacific coast to celebrate their culture and existence. Without the potlatch system our foundation of governance, family, communication, and nation to nation relationships eroded. The potlatch ban diminished the integrity and capacity of our societies and leadership.

When deciding how to celebrate Canada 150, please consider the ongoing battles indigenous communities fight to access clean drinking water, adequate health care, and education that includes and values traditional indigenous knowledge. Having to continually fight for these basic human rights has exhausted many indigenous communities, leaving them unable to access their territories and engage in cultural revitalization. The lack of these services has lead to a suicide crisis in many communities. Children are taking their own lives because they feel they have no other option.

When deciding on how to celebrate Canada 150, please consider the forced sterilization of indigenous women that happened in the 1970’s. The intent was to reduce the population of indigenous communities to limit government responsibility.

When deciding how to celebrate Canada 150, please consider the appalling number of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. Systemic and overt racism, intergenerational trauma, and lack of addiction support has contributed to these numbers. This national crisis would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the outcry from indigenous communities.

When deciding how to celebrate Canada 150, please consider the continued attempts to assimilate indigenous peoples into the Canadian mosaic, instead of honouring and providing space for our many unique cultures. This erasure of identity through policies such as the Indian Act have led to a disconnect to families, to land, and to self. The Canadian government does not want to implement United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and are currently fighting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations in court because they do not want to recognize indigenous nations.

It is your decision on how you will celebrate 150 years since confederation of this country, all that we ask is that you consider the above as we move forward into the next 150 years.

The following are more resources on what Canada 150 means to indigenous people and nations:

2020-01-22T23:49:23+00:00July 2nd, 2017|

Cetacean Connections ????

Whale Watching in Zodiac

June brings with it warmth, weekend getaways, and most importantly (to us anyways), whales!! We have been out scouting the waters and have been greeted by many of our fluke-tailed friends, including humpback whales, minke whales, and other cetaceans including killer whales, white-sided dolphins and porpoises.

Our connection to cetaceans runs deep, so deep that the spirit of our ancestors is within killer whales. It is believed that sea hunters, once they pass on, come back as ma̱’a̱mx̱’inux̱w (killer whales).

A Musgamakw Dzawada̱’enux̱w legend brings this belief to life, as told by late ‘giga̱me Yaḵała̱nlis, Ernie Willie:

“In a bizarre way our people cried when they first caught a killer whale named “Mobido”. Several years before there was this young boy named Baba’gwa̱m. He was a good hunter and he wanted to try his prowess in the open sea. He wanted to hunt a killer whale, max̱inux̱. 

So Baba’gwa̱m would go to this island where he knew that the max̱nux̱ would play from time to time and he would bring his harpoons. He was able to get the harpoons stuck in the max̱inux̱ alright but wasn’t able to kill one. He was just hunting them and that was all, mitła. 

Finally one day a big bull killer whale came right up to the beach. It opened its mouth and a man came running out from it and chased Baba’gwa̱m. In no time at all the man caught up to Baba’gwa̱m and when he did he grabbed both of the boy’s achilles tendons and ripped them right off. He didn’t kill Baba’gwa̱m but at that point he told the boy, 

“You’ll remember from this day forward that we too are men, and you will live a long life to tell this to others. This will be your plight from here on in. You cannot walk anymore but you must tell our story.” 

For many years Baba’gwa̱m told the killer whale’s story and passed this story onto many generations. He reminded his people that they must respect nature and remember that all living creatures are like humans. They have families to look after and feeling just as we do. 

He’a̱m.”

With this connection comes a respect for all cetaceans. In the past few years g̱wi’g̱wa̱’ya̱m (humpback whales) have been making a splash once again in our traditional territory. Welcoming them back has been our honour and our pleasure.

Introducing our guests to our seafaring ancestors, and friends has been a special experience that we are excited to continue to do throughout the summer.

2020-01-22T23:56:30+00:00June 15th, 2017|

Sea Wolf Experiences

Please see our experiences by viewing our promotional video. You will find a nice blend of First Nations culture and wildlife viewing. We thrive on giving our guests the best possible experiences of a life time. Reconnection to wilderness is at the heart of Sea Wolf and we invite you to journey with us to learn about local traditional history and our deep connection to wildlife in our traditional territory.

2020-01-23T00:25:46+00:00December 13th, 2015|

People of the Wild: Mike Willie

Mike Willie - Sea Wolf Adventures

Posted by Destination British Columbia on 20 Apr 2015

People of the Wild is a blog series profiling residents of British Columbia who have one thing in common: their love for exploring the BC wild. This week we’re featuring Mike Willie, a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation who resides in Kingcome Inlet, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Mike works in cultural tourism and is a passionate speaker and educator involved in aboriginal language and cultural revitalization.

Where do you live in BC?

My name is Mike Willie and my First Nations name is T’ɬalis. My Mom is First Nations and I grew up with her in Kingcome Inlet, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Kingcome is a really remote place. It’s about sixty-five nautical miles from the nearest town by water and the population is about eighty people. It was an awesome place to grow up and call home. As kids we were allowed to play outside in the forest or down by the beach. We did a lot of hunting and fishing for sustenance, which you can still do there to this day. We had a school that went up until grade seven and then you had to move out for high school.

I have my own aboriginal tourism and water taxi business called Sea Wolf Adventures. It is based on reconnecting to our land and language through the work of culture revitalization. The foundation of who we are is the territory and land that we come from. Our language comes from the land and is only a reflection of our surroundings, so the inspiration for my company was to get out there into the natural surroundings.

Why do you call BC home?

That’s a funny question. I’ve been here my whole life and my ancestors have been here forever, or for thousands of years at least. The number keeps creeping back as archaeology keeps discovering or uncovering new findings. And our origin stories bring us back to the Kingcome Glacier.

I call BC home because of my First Nations ancestry and also because I love the nature. We have supernatural things within our own First Nations culture, but I believe BC is supernatural in itself. We have the life and energies of the forest and water. My culture and my love of nature are two aspects that are blended for me because First Nations culture is really based on all of that. When we have our ceremonies, it’s all linked and tied in to the energies from the forest and land.

Our culture is entrenched in nature and is a reflection of our surroundings. I recently had my first potlatch, so I’m now a hereditary chief from my nation. We dramatized all of our stories and we sang a lot of our songs. The best way to explain it is that all of our songs are a record of past events that happened thousands of years ago. The beauty of oral tradition is to be able to remember that way and to pass on knowledge through stories, songs, and dances.

The potlatch went really well. Greenpeace International and Greenpeace Canada were there as well and we rekindled a relationship that was started in the 70s with them between our hereditary chiefs of the Kwakwaka’wakw. It kind of died out for a while so we just wanted to re-spark it and have that relationship.

How does being out in nature make you feel?

It touches on all aspects. There’s an essence of cleansing and of being cleansed when you’re out in the forest and the fresh air. After a nice rainy day in the Great Bear Rainforest, once the rain stops everything becomes crystal clear to me. You see clearly and very plainly. We actually have a native word for that – we call it “awal”.

We also have a practice of going into the forest if you want to find direction in your life, or if you’re having a hard time or you need some kind of answer. We go out into the forest and fast for four days without food and very minimal water. That’s where you collect your thoughts because you’re by yourself and you are free from distractions. The animal life around, the birds and wolves and sometimes bears, becomes a challenge and becomes part of it. But you come out of the forest knowing a direction and knowing there’s an answer for your questions. That was developed over thousands of years with our people and it worked for me – I’ve been three times now.

On your typical day out, in the BC wild, what do you normally bring with you?

When I’m in the forest I bring some rope, a fold up hacksaw, and a headlamp. I like my Icebreaker merino wool, so I pack a spare shirt. I also have my Canon G16 camera and if we’re going for a long walk then I bring a CamelBak and hydration bags. It’s pretty much the same thing if I’m out on the boat. It’s always safety first so I bring lots of food and water as well as life gear, safety gear, and floaters.

Describe your perfect day in BC.

My answer to this is intertwined with my answer for how nature makes me feel. A perfect day for me has those moments after it rains and it clears. That’s one part. Another example is if I’m on the water in my boat and I come across some humpback whales. It’s hard for me to explain but the only words that come to mind to describe that experience are family, closeness, and connection. My name that I gave you, T’ɬalis, is actually a whale name. We have a story that goes back thousands of years about our encounter with the whales.

Another aspect of a perfect day is being in the forest. The air is different once you’re in the forest among the greenery. I’m an educator now, and from a research point they say that it’s actually great for development to get out there in the forest. I believe that’s why people find that serenity and the pulling and calling from the forest. We all seem to have that response to nature in common.

The ability to reconnect by getting back to nature is a simple concept if you think about it. Our people developed these systems and processes for our people to really clear their minds and become stronger. Bathing in ice-cold water was another strengthening and revitalizing technique. It’s interesting to see sports teams do that now when we’ve done that for thousands of years and it’s reflected in our stories. It’s pretty amazing how things are starting to come up through science and research but they’re simply from nature and we’ve had them all along.

What are three things that you would suggest that a new traveller to BC not miss this year?

I would definitely recommend they check out Kingcome Inlet where I grew up. The way of living up there blows people away. When you are there you experience a unique solitude and it almost seems like you are going back in time. Last year was the first year of bringing travellers there. To get there you head up on a bigger boat like a water taxi, but then you’ve got to get in a little boat and head about seven miles (11km) up the Kingcome River to get to our village. When I was younger, that little boat was a dugout canoe with a outboard motor on it. When you get to our village it is surrounded by towering mountains, so it’s quite the breathtaking site.

Secondly, I would say go visit Gilford Island. It’s our sister village and there’s lots of history there. They have the oldest standing ceremonial longhouse in Canada. It was put up in 1887, and it’s quite significant and still in use. My Uncle Don just renovated it and reinforced the structure last year. So if people want history, there is a lot of history in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Lastly, I would definitely get out on the water. Anywhere works, but an accessible example might be from the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It’s amazing and easy to connect with the marine life. You can also go to Port McNeill or Telegraph Cove, or Alert Bay to head out on day trips.

What would you consider to be BC’s best-kept secret?

Kingcome Inlet! In Kingcome we have the second oldest longhouse. It is almost a hundred years old.

Any last words of advice to someone thinking about travelling to BC?

Be prepared. Be prepared for supernatural British Columbia. And don’t forget to look up. That’s what I tell all my family and friends. If you’re in and around mountainous areas, don’t forget to look up. In our ways the mountains are protectors, so pay tribute just by looking up. And don’t forget to put your feet in our rivers. I’m all about washing away negativity and our rivers are the way to do it.

2020-01-23T23:24:03+00:00June 17th, 2015|

An Inevitable Alliance

Greenpeace Alliance

An Inevitable Alliance
By: Julia McIntyre-Smith and Eduardo Sousa

Indigenous peoples are bound to the land; a connection created when our ancestors first walked the earth has been passed down from generation to generation. The desire to protect Mother Earth is innate within many indigenous peoples- including the Kwakwaka’wakw tribes of the southern-central coast of British Columbia.

Although this relationship with the land has endured many hardships, the Hereditary Chiefs of the Kwakwaka’wakw, along with their families maintain stewardship over their traditional territories. We have fought governments, big industry, and sometimes even our own, to protect the land that has given so much to our ancestors. We have gone toe to toe with the forestry industry in efforts to protect our sacred heritage sites, we have canoed out to protest the invasive fish farms that are ubiquitous in our territories, and we have protested in solidarity with our brother and sisters against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

Our battle for rights, sovereignty and self-determination has been arduous, tiring, long, and continues today. Along the road, necessary relationships have been made with other Nations, allies, and environmental organizations.

Greenpeace has long been fighting for the protection of the lands and waters across the globe. They began in 1971 when a small group of activists set sail to the Amchitka Island off Alaska to stop US nuclear weapons test aboard the Phyllis Cormack, aa modest halibut seiner they had chartered and which was rechristened Greenpeace for this voyage.

From these humble beginnings, this small group has since turned into an international organization with thousands of members in over 40 offices. Their mandate is to: “…Change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.”

Greenpeace forged a relationship with the Kwakwaka‘wakw peoples on their inaugural journey to Amchitka Island. While travelling to Alaska, the Phyllis Cormack (Greenpeace) stopped in Alert Bay. The Kwakwaka‘wakw people blessed their ship and their fishermen gave them salmon.

With raised spirits the crew members of the Greenpeace continued on their journey to stop the nuclear weapon tests. Although the crew were unsuccessful in their mission and felt deflated, in stopping off at Alert Bay on the way back their efforts were deeply appreciated by the Kwakwaka‘wakw people. A feast was given at the Bighouse with dancing and food; crew members were honoured in having regalia placed on them and blessed with eagle down. Coming out of such a powerful ceremony the crew felt much more uplifted in their spirits. Shortly after that, the organization was also granted the rights to carry the Sisiyutɬ, an ancient crest of a powerful marine-based mythological being who represents, amongst many things, guidance and protection from bad energies.

Decades later, the time has come to renew this relationship and to create an even stronger bond with the Greenpeace organization. To continue the battle for environmental preservation, an alliance has been created between the Hereditary Chiefs of the Kwakwakawakw First Nations and Greenpeace. Greenpeace’s mandate aligns greatly with one of the traditional laws of the Kwakwakawakw: “All of creation can live without Man, but Man cannot live without all of creation.”

This alliance will bring strength to both sides. Greenpeace brings with it support and global presence to help invigorate the voice of the Kwakwakawakw people. The Hereditary Chiefs will share with Greenpeace their traditional knowledge of living off the land to help foster a stronger relationship with Mother Earth.

On March 7th, 2015 this relationship was solidified at Ol Siwidi- Mike Willie’s potlatch. In a special ceremony both sides pledged a renewed commitment and this was symbolically embodied through the unveiling of a renewed Sisiyutɬ crest for Greenpeace to carry forward (the symbol was altered as Greenpeace developed over the years, to the point that it had lost its original cultural meaning and power). The new Sisiyutɬ was designed by well-known Kwakwaka’wakw artist and cultural leader Beau Dick with help from Cole Speck; their relatives were also centrally involved in the 1971 ceremony.

As Greenpeace representative Eduardo Sousa said, “Renewing this sacred crest and more deeply understanding its meaning is vital to our re-established relationship with the Kwakwaka’wakw – especially the Hereditary Chiefs. We are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to renew ties as symbolized by this beautiful crest and to have it done in ceremony, witnessed by the community and the Hereditary Chiefs in attendance. And of course we are humbled and deeply grateful to Mike and his family to have been able to do this special ceremony at their recent potlatch.”

It is the desire of both parties to protect the environment, and co-exist sustainably with all the plants and animals who inhabit it.

2020-01-23T00:46:00+00:00May 18th, 2015|

Residential School

Alert Bay Residential School

Can you imagine authorities demanding that you allow your children to be taken away to residential school or risk being put in jail? For over one hundred years, Aboriginal children across Canada were taken from their families and sent to residential schools to promote their assimilation into Canadian society and effectively remove them of their cultural teachings, identity and language. The children lost out on the love and nurturing of their parents and families, and many were physically, emotionally and sexually abused, and treated without respect. There are personal stories of hunger, life-threatening attempted escapes, and loneliness. Many children died or went missing, with their parents never knowing the details. The trauma inflicted upon these children by the government and churches is something that will take generations to heal from. Those children are now mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers that mourn the sadness and loss of their childhood and struggle with effects.

Sea Wolf Adventure guides, Mike Willie and K’odi Nelson, have brought many guests to Alert Bay, BC to experience local culture and learn about the history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. As part of their tour, guests both young and old have stood in front of the run-down “St. Mike’s” building and listened to personal stories and description of this dark time. Many become emotional and offer apologies. Some are in disbelief. Young people have important questions about why this happened and what it was like. As guests walk towards the U’mista Culture Centre to experience the richness and vitality of local First Nations culture and people, the importance of telling our stories unfolds.

St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay will be demolished in the coming months. This week, a healing ceremony and gathering of residential school survivors from up and down the coast will take place at the site to mark an end of the physical structure. Standing together, residential school survivors will remember and continue to heal. It will take lifetimes to fully heal from the effects of this attempt to stamp out Aboriginal culture. Through the oral transmission of these stories, future citizens of this land will remember a lesson. The stories are ultimately about survival and the human spirit, and young people, like Mike Willie and K’odi, are now reaching out to reclaim and restore what was lost.

Thank you to all past and future Sea Wolf Adventures guests for listening and reflecting. We will continue to provide authentic educational experiences about the history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, tailored to individuals and groups. Let us know what you would like to learn about or experience! Art. Traditional culture. Significant places. Teachings. Geography. History. Relationship to the land. Meaning of the Potlatch System. Regalia. Traditional Food.

2020-01-23T00:52:21+00:00February 16th, 2015|

Reconciling Both Worlds

“In order to move forward we must reconcile both worlds”,  my late uncle would say. As head of our family, he received a big hereditary chief’s name and position amongst the Musg̱a̱makw Dzawada̱’enux̱w. The big name was Yaḵała̱nlis. Ernest Willie was brought up in the days when the Potlatching, in Kingcome Inlet and Gilford Island, was still going strong. In 1945, when he was only 8 years old, he was initiated into the Hamat̕sa secret society. As he grew older he moved away to become educated in western society. He felt that he needed to learn how to survive and reconcile both worlds; that he did!

My uncle Ernie also became a Minister for the Anglican Church. He often would tell me that he could relate to the stories in the Bible to our own local stories within the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw. “It’s all about the gift of self”, he would say. He truly knew what it meant to reconcile both worlds.

This totem pole represents, not only the 4 tribes of Kingcome, but also how we are not inferior to the Anglican Church; our pole is not behind, or in front, it is beside it. Our people went through a lot of turmoil just to put it up. They had to say it was in memory of King George the 5th in order to erect the pole. Indeed, my old people were smart! It was against the law in 1938 to practice our culture. During the Potlatch ban (1884 to 1951), some of our chiefs actually went to jail for practicing our traditions. In this church you can see that our old people incorporated our First Nation’s elements within the building. The foresight they had during that time is remarkable. They truly left us a path for us to follow!

Travel~Truth~Beauty and Educational!

2020-01-23T23:10:15+00:00October 14th, 2014|

Passing On Our Teachings

Following in our forefathers’ footsteps is a path many of us take in our lives. Looking back into the past to pave the way for our future is one of the best principles our old people had. How can one move forward without roots? This is why K’odi and I teach our Kwakwaka‘wakw culture at the Gwa’sala-‘Nak’waxda’xw School. It is so important to pass on our ancestors’ ways because in the big scheme of things, it helps the children build confidence in navigating their lives in the right direction. Without a backbone, without a foundation of culture and who you are, it is like trying to take a boat ride at night without lights to guide the way. This is why the old people tried so hard at saving our language and culture for the future of our people.

We were brought up with our old peoples’ teachings. I remember a time at Chief Mungo Martin’s bighouse in Victoria, when we were very young, K’odi was being trained in a particular dance by an Elder; he was passing on his knowledge to him. This was all done behind closed and locked doors. As I watched from the drum log, I observed great detail as this knowledge transfer took place. The sincerity and hope for the future was definitely there that day.

Most of my memories of our ceremonies are from the drum log. I was 12 years old when I was first called to the drum log to sit and sing with the old people. I was so proud to honour and represent my heritage and roots of where I come from. I watched many dancers express our stories of long ago and dramatize our ceremonies that have been passed down for centuries. Many of our Elders have passed since then and now K’odi and I are doing our best to repeat the process of knowledge transfer.

When I was a boy, I received a name that refers to a Gwa’yam (whale) guiding his family. I strive to live up to this responsibility and help guide our youth..

O’ma hayulisus gayulasus! (Always remember who you are and where you come from)

I wish you all a Happy New Year and that you live life to the fullest!

Gilakas’la (Thank You).

2020-01-23T23:12:37+00:00January 2nd, 2014|

Ethnobotany Field Trip

Ethnobotany Field Trip - Sea Wolf Adventures

We loved hosting University of Victoria’s Indigenous Language Revitalization students as part of their ethnobotany course! Our goal was to provide an informative day of on-site learning about the carefully tended groves of Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) on Yukusam. Yukusam is situated in the Johnstone Strait at the south-west gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest and is a place that is rich with life. This island is really a living museum and the culturally shaped trees tell the story of Kwakwaka‘wakw traditional forestry methods that allowed the forest to thrive and provide for generations to follow.

Our day started with a beautiful ride across Johnstone Strait to Blackfish Sound, periodically stopping to take in the sight of some majestic humpback whales breaching together. K’odi met us where we boarded the skiff and stepped foot on the island. We were greeted by anthropologist David Garrick who has devoted his life to studying and recording CMTs on Yukusam. We walked the beautiful forest trail together, observing the incredible abundance of fungi species. We had 18 participants and the Elders that were part of our group were so happy to be out on the land. We soon arrived at the rustic but cozy research station where we gathered to learn the significance of CMT identification and how there is an estimated 10,000 CMTs on the island. Ancient healthy yews and red cedars are found on the island, some over 1000 years old. Bark-stripped CMTs are identified by the way they heal over time and produce a recognizable scar.

During the McKenna-McBride Commission in the early 1900s, it was reported that Hanson Island was abandoned, thus the BC Government assumed jurisdiction. The CMTs are archaeological evidence that Kwakwaka‘wakw families continued to occupy, manage and harvest the forests.

Mike (Sea Wolf Adventures owner and guide) likes to jokingly refer to these groves as his peoples’ ancient department stores that operated as cooperatively managed clothing, food, hardware and lumber departments. When we walk in the forest we look for signs. Finding physical evidence of how the old people lived is a way to reconnect with the land. He remarks, “It is empowering to learn how to identify a CMT because to the untrained eye it may look like a regular tree, and now I travel through the forest differently. When finding a CMT, I get a huge rush of energy just knowing that one of our ancestors was utilizing this tree and taking care of it at the same time. It teaches us today, by following our ancestors footsteps, to manage our forests and only take what we need.”

I remember when Mike first learned the art of identifying culturally shaped trees. He had found a portal to his ancestors and he came home energized on so many levels. He loves to share this with others and we are excited to make some future trips to Yukusam.

Thank you to University of Victoria, North Island College, David Garrick, Indigenous Education students (our language warriors), ‘Namgis, Mamalilikala and ɬawit’sis Nations!

2020-01-23T23:16:36+00:00November 12th, 2013|

What an Amazing Day!

Our Grand Opening was a great success at Telegraph Cove! It was spectacular to be able to share our dances on the historical boardwalk and bringing two cultures together was enjoyed by everyone. Sea Wolf Adventures really felt a warm welcome by owner Gordie Graham. Howard Pattinson, owner of Tide Rip Tours, also gave a warm welcome to our company opening at the Cove. Chief William Wasden of the ‘Namgis was the master of ceremonies accompanied by Chief T’ɬakwagila (Art Dick) of the Mamalilikala, Chief T’ɬakwadzi (Norman Glendale) of the Da‘naxda’xw, and Chief Yakaɬanlis (Don Willie) of the Kwikwasut’inuxw and together they showed their full support for our new business venture. We want travelers to know that we are very active in revitalizing our language and culture. Passing the teachings down to the next generation is key to Sea Wolf Adventures.

Gilakas’la, he’am ‘mawisdɬa. (Thank you, that’s all for now)!

2020-01-23T23:18:10+00:00July 7th, 2013|