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Youth

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Print Method: Giclée
Edition: 200
Released: December 2019
Paper Size: 8.5" x 11" (optional matt: 11"x 14")

Faces of the Treaty Empire Collection

I belong to the K’ómoks First Nation and we are deep into the British Columbia treaty process. I truly have mixed feelings about our involvement in this. By choosing to engage in the process, we enter a world of consultants and negotiators and other strange, scary and wonderful creatures. We partake in a world of borrowing and debt; of meetings and fights. We enter without knowing whether we are journeying into the dark side or are on a path towards the light.

What I do know is that under the treaty process, our community has begun to fracture. Our very future as a people is at stake. Will treaty define who we are or will our culture do that? Will treaty lead us to form a “Treaty Empire” or a “Treaty Rebellion”?

We have a word in the Kwak̓wala language that we most often use in reference to our children: ḵ̕wa̱la’yu…”you are my reason for living”. We say this because, at the heart of it, there is nothing more important than our children. They are the ones who will be practicing our culture into the future. They are the ones who will carry our names, dances and sacred traditions down to the next generation.

In our old ways, we would perform a ceremony where we would place a “copper”—our symbol of wealth—in front, in back, on the sides and on the head of our youth. This was done to announce to the public that our coppered children were protected by our chief. They were so important to him that he would risk his own wealth to protect them. As the child grew, he or she was initiated into our sacred dance societies where they would wear the cedar bark neck ring of that society. We involved them early and often in our ceremonies to ensure that the old ways persevered.

As we proceed under the treaty process, are we really looking out for the best interests of our youth? As we gaze into their big bright eyes, can we confidently say that are doing everything in our power to raise them as culturally involved Indigenous people or are we content to lead them into a life of complete Western assimilation?