New names, New relationships

·10 min read

On October 1, for the first time in over 100 years, Tla’amin Nation held a ceremony at t̓iskʷət - their ancient village site at the mouth of the river. The fire, gifts, speeches and drumming were in recognition of the mill’s name change to Catalyst Paper Excellence t̓iskʷət.

This decision was made by Catalyst in a Memorandum of Understanding with Tla’amin. “

This name change is a long time coming and an important gesture to repair harm,” said Hegus (Chief) John Hackett.

The mill’s vice-president of corporate communications confirmed that the name change is just a first step in a reconciliation process with the Nation - which was moved off their land to make way for the mill over 100 years ago.

“We are working closely with the Hegus John Hackett and the Tla’amin Executive Council to ensure the steps we take in building this new relationship are thoughtful and measured,” said Graham Kissack.

Both Catalyst and Western Forest Products have publicly taken steps this year to repair relationships with Tla’amin. The corporate moves reveal a shift in the region. Overwhelmingly, Tla’amin members percieve that shift and the recognition as positive.

Catalyst engineer and Tla’amin Nation member Jordan Mitchell shares that the name change of the mill site is a huge step in reconciliation.

“It means a tremendous amount to me personally, as a Tla’amin man and as a 10-year employee at Catalyst. The history of that site is undeniable,” Jordan says. “t̓iskʷət is the site’s proper place name since time immemorial and the recognition of that feels like such a relief.

“I am overjoyed for the few fluent ayʔaǰʊΘɛm-speaking elders we have left who remember their grandparents who only knew that place by it’s true name –t̓iskʷət. Somehow, I am even more happy for the children of our area who will grow up learning of the deep traditional heritage of the people who inhabited these lands and lived as part of it for millennia.”

Elder Leslie Adams agrees.

“I think the name change is very good,” said the former Chief. “I worked in the mill for about 37 years, I had always gotten along well with the others there. I was always on the tugboat, that was my favourite job there. I am happy with the name change to t̓iskʷət.”

Elder Bob Blaney nots that name changes can be a bridge.

“I think it is good that the mill and the city are looking at name changes and trying to understand our history.”

Former chief Maynard Harry explained, “I think that the Catalyst name change is coming from a good place, and it is a start. Name changes are a demonstration, we still have a long ways to go, and must go far beyond name changes, but this is worth a ‘thank you’.”

Present at the afternoon ceremony were several Tla’amin elders, members, and council members, plus the Hegus. Also there were Catalyst executives and workers, Powell River and qathet Regional District officials, MLA Nicholas Simons, and Mayor Dave Formosa.

Their speeches reflected on history, tragedy, and reconciliation.

After the speeches, Tla’amin members lit the fire. Everyone turned away from the flames and remained silent. When the flames died down into embers, participants turned around to face the fire. The ceremony ended with drumming, and Tla’amin giving blankets to the special guests.

“The ceremony that took place was very emotional, leading up to it, I did some research. What I found made my heart drop,” says Hegus John Hackett. “t̓iskʷət is the original village site of Tla’amin. It is very clear why Tla’amin picked t̓iskʷət. The river holds rich spawning grounds for pacific salmon that feed the healthy, diverse wildlife.

“I envision the diversity of wildlife and the habitat provided food and medicines. Oral history has taught us that we used to send our young men on a journey to hunt and gather medicines along t̓iskʷət. In 1878 Tla’amin lost this land when Logging License Lot-450 was issued,” says the Hegus.

Earlier this summer, two young members of the Nation blockaded the access road to Western Forest Products’ (WFP) Stillwater license area. Throughout the day they were joined by both Tla’amin members and non-Indigenous qathet residents.

A few days later, WFP and Tla’amin announced a ‘renewal agreement,’ building upon their existing Memorandum of Understanding.

The areas in the Tla’amin territory that Western had been working on will now be a collaboration between the two entities.

“The agreement is an important step in reconciliation that recognizes and respects the interests of the Tla’amin Nation,” explained Shannon Janzen, Vice President Partnerships and Sustainability and Chief Forester. Hegus John Hackett said, “We have a strong and respectful working relationship with Western, and through this joint planning process we will better ensure that forestry decisions on our territory are made by Tla’amin and reflect the best interest of both present and future generations of Tla’amin citizens.”

Elder Bob Blaney worked in the forestry industry. He is more cynical about the company’s overtures.

“I was not too happy about it, we have things to worry about, like climate change, and we are running out of trees. We have to protect and save the old growth trees and forests, for our future generations and our grandchildren.

“The partnership I don’t think will change much. I wanted them to stop logging in our territory, I don’t think us getting more of a say is any better, they are still logging here,” Bob said.

Jordan notes that the change should be seen as serious.

“My hope for this is that Western, as well as other forestry companies, will view our forests and the resources for its cultural currency rather than its dollar value. Consultation with Tla’amin, a self-determined Nation, needs to be on the table for logging operations within our traditional territory,” says Jordan. “Every business needs to make money to survive but I think, going forward, if certain aspects of the planning, harvesting and cleanup may be modified to be selective and certainly salvage more than in the past. As well as these measures, our remaining areas of old growth forests need to be protected.

“Those forests are precious and ensuring their protection provides us with windows into the wilderness that have been systematically wiped out over the years.”

Besides Catalyst and WFP, the Powell River Museum and Archives, the Powell River General Hospital, City of Powell River, and more have all announced they’re considering name changes. The city was even looking into changing the road-naming bylaw, to include Indigenous names for new roads made or to replace old road names.

Tla’amin’s language was almost lost. Today, multiple efforts by individuals, the Nation, academia and local schools are hoping to recover it. qathet has come a long way, Jordan explains.

“I think any company, organization, park or city that wishes to take the steps to recognize the traditional place names around our homes is amazing,” Jordan says. “Formally re-establishing and repatriating those names is invaluable for the survival of the ayʔaǰʊΘɛm language and the rich culture of Tla’amin.”

“I have been heartened by the initiative I have experienced by friends, acquaintances and coworkers who want to learn simple words, phrases and place names in the language. Tremendous work is being done by relatives of mine to preserve and pass on ayʔaǰʊΘɛm in their jobs and every day life.

“We have so few fluent speakers left in Tla’amin and it will take an even greater effort by everyone to preserve what they are still able to pass on to us and the younger generations,” says Jordan.

qathet is moving towards reconciliation, but the rest of Canada seems to be moving at a much slower pace. Daniel Justice, a UBC Expert on Residential Schools and Truth and Reconciliation, said, “The challenge with this question is that it leaves out one important part of the reconciliation process: truth. We can’t have reconciliation without truth, and the truth of Canada’s colonialism—past and present—continues to create harm, primarily for Indigenous peoples but for non-Indigenous people too.

“Until we return to the idea of truth and reconciliation, and understand that truth-telling will be challenging and ask a lot of all of us, then any discussion of reconciliation is incomplete and even harmful. We can’t short-circuit the process by saying ‘let’s all just get along,’ which is what a lot of reconciliation rhetoric has become; we have to understand that truth and reconciliation mean change for all of us, and not just superficial change—it requires a complete re-thinking of how we account for the past and ensure that the future is more generous, more just, and more honourable,” Daniel says.

“We have to learn how to live together on terms that aren’t ultimately only about what’s good or comfortable for Canada and non-Indigenous people.

“We’re all impoverished by bad relations. Non-Indigenous people are hurt by colonialism, too, though in different ways from Indigenous people—it’s a history, and a system, that’s inherently dehumanizing, and it keeps all of us from realizing the possibilities of good relations.

“The history of Powell River is older than the mill; it’s a deep, right, and ongoing relationship to place. Learning more about those deep roots enriches everyone’s relationship to the place and its entangled histories, and it makes possible better things for everyone in the future.”

Daniel explains that given the looming dangers of climate change, Canadians need to realize we need each other more than ever.

“We can’t be in good future relations without taking account for the complex and often painful inheritances of the past. And that can be an opportunity to be curious and compassionate with one another—it doesn’t need to be something people fear.”

Maynard Harry is hopeful, pointing out that this region is leading by example, again.

“Communication is reconciliation’s biggest tool, and I am very proud of Tla’amin and Powell River because we are a community that has that, there are not a lot of other Nation-City relationships that share this connection. The rest of Canada needs to have better communications with First Nations to achieve reconciliation.”

Locally, we seem to have a bright future ahead of us, with all of the partnerships, name changes, and relationships. The city and Tla’amin are on good terms, according to Hegus John Hackett.

“I see reconciliation as a long path and many steps such as this (Catalyst name change) to move forward. I feel the support and appreciate the local businesses and other entities taking that are taking steps and reaching out to our Nation wanting our input on how they can change their company name, or how to address cultural sensitivity, these are steps down that path of reconciliation.

“I also see reconciliation as an attempt to rebuild from a broken relationship. We will learn from past mistakes, and reconcile these mistakes to evolve our relationship and move forward. I believe reconciliation has to happen on many levels, because the deep scars left behind from the initial arrangement or relationship, many of these scars still affect multi-generations,” John says.

“Overall I am an optimist.”

Former Chief Maynard Harry is, too.

“Reconciliation is very complicated. I think it is very important to never, ever stop trying,” explains Maynard. “I think that with Truth and Reconciliation Day, it is important to remember and honour those families and people affected.

“We are still being affected today, and I think that for reconciliation to be achieved people need to understand where we are coming from, to put themselves in our shoes, they have got to get it,” says Maynard.

“In Powell River, I think that our community gets it.”

“I feel the support and appreciate the local businesses and other entities taking that are taking steps and reaching out to our Nation.”

- Hegus John Hackett

Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, qathet Living

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