Recently, I have been reflecting on my time in Yunesit’in. Specifically, I have been thinking deeply about some of the core issues at the heart of my project and how I have and continue to engage with these. This blog will remain consistent with the approach I adopted in my previous blogs, acting as a sort of canvas where I can organise my experiences and consider my thoughts in order to arrive at a heightened sense of awareness of what I am doing (questioning what I am doing is something I struggle with from time to time during research). In doing so, this blog captures where I am at and where I hope to go with this work, giving extra purpose to this exercise and making it extremely useful.
To re-cap, the purpose of my collaboration with Yunesit’in is to design an Aboriginal Guardianship program. This program is to be used by the community to guide their work and activities throughout Dasiqox Tribal Park, as well as the wider Aboriginal Title Lands and Tsilhqot’in Caretaker Area. At first glance, it is easy to think that a ‘Guardianship’ program speaks specifically to land and water management. Being here and working with the community however, it has become plainly obvious that this program is as much, if not more, a social and cultural resource for the community. Having this slight change in consciousness towards the project alters the approach immensely. Whilst I was aware that an Aboriginal Guardianship program would arrive at this space, interacting with this on-the-ground has compelled me to adjust. The following section explains how this change has come about and what it means for the Guardianship program.
Firstly, as an Aboriginal Guardianship program embedded in the community, it is necessary to understand the core social issues that influence the inner workings and day-to-day lives of community members. During my time talking with community members and participating in activities at the local community school, it is obvious that the core social issues differ between generations.
I first encountered these experiences from an Elders perspective during a field-trip on to a part of the Tsilhqot’in Caretaker Area which had recently been logged. I learnt on this trip that many Elders in the community grew up and experienced first-hand the horrors of residential schools. Many were sent or taken away and forced to board in these institutions. Whilst the individual experiences of residential schools differ greatly, one commonality that is shared is the opportunity lost by not growing up surrounded by and actively participating in Tsilhqot’in culture. For many Elders in the community, being on the land, practicing and participating in cultural activities is seen as a vital component of the ongoing healing of residential school survivors. The dark shadow of residential schooling hangs over Yunesit’in, as it does with every Native community. This healing is something that I immediately realised I not only had to account for but embed in the fabric of the Guardianship program. The legacy of residential schooling influences every person in Yunesit’in. But how people interact with and feel the effects of this history differs between generations.
During a cultural exchange held at the local community school, I was able to engage with the perspectives of young people in the community including their hopes and desires for a Guardianship program, and their general views on being connected to the land. To start, many young people in the community have expressed they do not feel culturally strong. Whether not being able to speak fluent Tsilhqot’in or not knowing traditional hunting or gathering practices, young people feel disconnected form their cultural roots. Many young people identified that they love being on the land and participating in cultural activities such as fishing, hunting, trapping, berry picking etc. When pressed on why they enjoyed these activities, some young people expressed that they enjoyed being connected to the landscape as their ancestors were. But when asked to reflect deeper on why they enjoyed these things and where those feelings of happiness and joy come from, it became plainly evident that what the vast majority of young people enjoy is being on the land with their parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents. They expressed that they thoroughly enjoy spending time on the land, free from the distractions of town and all that goes along with it (such as tv, games, driving in cars, shopping etc.). Children shared freely and openly the times that they spent with the elders on the land, and how they felt when learning from and with their elders. In this way, experiencing culture is not a far off abstract or romantic notion; it is real and can be experienced in these interactions.
Understanding these views that are shared between people in these generations is vital to making the Guardianship program successful. Without accounting for and building in ways to engage with these perspectives, any program will not be as successful as it could be or should be. The challenge as it has appeared to me is how to design a program that can simultaneously account for the healing component so important to may elders in the community, whilst facilitating on-the-land opportunities for young people. But Native communities in north-America, I have learnt, share common philosophies of connectedness that we (Aboriginal groups) have at home in Australia. It is easy to view the ambitions of these generations as differently however, I see them as the same.
The common interaction between these very different ambitions is being on the land. Thus, the Aboriginal Guardianship program is now being designed to act as a facilitator of on-the-land activities. In particular, it aims to facilitate the on-the-ground learning component between generations and families. Through these activities, whether conservation work, cultural activities, building cabins, restoring tracks or monitoring cultural sites, the healing and family bonding takes place at the same time in the same place. The different generations may be interacting with these experiences differently and take away different feelings, but both are being benefited culturally and socially.
This is only one component of the research that has arisen however, it is a vital one. To design a Guardianship Program that understands the needs and supports the ambitions of community member from diverse experiences builds rigor into the both the research and outcomes. Most of all though, I feel that in doing so, it has the real ability to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of community members whilst simultaneously achieving positive environmental outcomes.