Snuneymuxw Knowledge Keeper supports youth to connect to xpey’ (red cedar)

·3 min read

Dave Bodley wears many hats. He’s a Knowledge Keeper, photographer, harvester, tour guide, genealogist — and a weaver.

Bodley recently invited IndigiNews to visit the workshop space he shares with carver Beau Wagner on unceded Snuneymuxw territory in so-called Nanaimo. Before entering, we wash our hands in a bowl of water outside as the sun shines down, to cleanse ourselves before sharing space with the xpey’ (red cedar).

Bodley welcomes us inside and begins sharing stories of his family’s history, going as far back as the 16th century.

“On my mom’s side, here from Snuneymuxw, my great grandfather, I carry his name … his Ancestors always have been Snuneymuxw, which can be traced back to those who made the Petroglyph Park here in Nanaimo.”

This sense of place sets the stage for Bodley’s workshop space, where he has been offering programming for children and youth in care who access services at Kwùmut Lelum Child and Family Services, and for Indigenous youth from Tsawalk Learning Centre.

Kwùmut Lelum is a Delegated Aboriginal Agency that offers support to nine member Nations on so-called Vancouver Island, including the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

Most recently, Bodley spent six weeks supporting kids in care to connect with cedar. He says each session began on the land, including trips to Stlillup (Departure Bay) and Beban Park, adjacent to his workshop space on the site of the Vancouver Island Exhibition.

“Each week I started off with a welcome song. We would be here or at a park … somewhere where we [could] connect with the cedar and share the importance of cedar in our culture,” he says.

Cedar can only be harvested between the end of May and beginning of July, he says. If it’s harvested earlier, the cedar will be too sticky with pitch, and if it’s harvested later, the cedar will be too dry and easily splinter, he explains.

“I’ve had some youth before come on my land and we did some harvesting. It was neat to have three of them and they each had a chance to pull on it, and to try to get them to pull [the bark] evenly.”

Bodley, who says he’s been weaving since 2007, has created a workshop space as beautiful as a copper shield in bright sunlight.

In the centre of the shop sits a large cedar canoe filled with rolls upon rolls of cedar bark, which Bodley mostly harvests himself. The canoe is surrounded by tables adorned with copper shields, cedar hats and bracelets, wooden paddles, Bodley’s photographs, and beads of devil’s club and blue glass.

“We tell [the youth] stories about the cedar, and they have the opportunity to make cedar bracelets and headbands,” he says.

“One of the other projects we do is to paint on medallions,” he says. The youth also made what Bodley calls “Coast Salish clappers” by sanding the edges of cedar planks into the shape of a paddle.

“I was drumming and walking around, and the youth were trying to keep up with it,” he says, laughing.

Bodley says that sharing culture with the youth is part of his journey, and he encourages Indigenous youth who want to connect with their culture to explore their creativity. If someone isn’t interested in weaving, Bodley says he supports them to connect to their roots as Indigenous people in other ways, whether it’s through painting, singing, creating music, beadwork or harvesting medicines on the land.

He adds that it’s important to respect protocols when sharing cultural practices.

“In our cultural way, to share with the younger people or share with the public … it’s important to do it in the proper way,” he says.

Bodley says he encourages his pupils to gift their first creation to someone.

“If you give away your first gift that you make, the next one will come to you faster.”

Anna McKenzie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse