By Ken Gurr, Program Coordinator

Since the Nature Stewards program began a few years ago, our team of volunteer guides have visited the properties of close to 150 islanders. And one of the most common questions, or even advance apologies, we get is: “We had to take this tree down, or clear that area for a veggie garden, I hope that’s OK?”

I think the answer is at the very heart of what stewardship is all about.

I sometimes reply with the quip, “‘Tain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It” (the title of a jazz dance song from the 1930s). Humanity has always tinkered, made changes, and used resources from the land for our survival; the problems came when we forgot or just straight-up ignored that all the life around us are beings not things. It’s a reciprocal relationship and so needs our attention and care: our stewardship.

All of us are overwhelmed with endless information about climate breakdown, pollution, and the destruction of nature, but we hear almost nothing about how to nurture it! The answers, however, have been here all along with the Coast Salish and all Indigenous Peoples.

“From a Coast Salish perspective many lessons are learned from closely observing and being in relationship with the landscape. All life around us communicates and provides information about the world around us. It is like a library of information. Human, animal, plant and even seemingly inanimate objects like rocks and water all contain information and provide opportunities to learn.”

This quote is from the “Land is Life” course materials from Vancouver Island University’s Elder College program. Used with permission and desire by Penelakut Elder Florence James to share widely. It is the core to all Coast Salish teachings: listen, really listen to the teachings of those who know—the elders, including other beings.

One assignment we were given was to go into the forest—on one’s property, in a park, or other wildland—choose a “knowing” tree and spend an hour or two “together”. Bring only a blanket or nothing at all. Just stay touching.

I’m a long-time wilderness backpacker and love camping, have done yoga and meditation, but just being with one tree for no other reason but to hang together was one of the most profound listening experiences of my life!

For those wanting to learn more stewardship-oriented “what you do’s”, GaLTT’s Nature Stewards program has put together this webpage of curated Resources.

And if you want to find your own answers to “the way that you do it”, I strongly suggest go and be with a favourite tree in this glorious landscape we call home, on the traditional territory of the Hul’q’umi’num speaking Snuneymuxw People, and listen.

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