Learning Through Oral History

Today, I had the most wonderful opportunity to visit the Parks Canada Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic site.  While visiting the site with my fellow Royal Roads colleagues, we participated in a Local First Nations Culture and Heritage Walk.  The tour was run by two First Nations Parks Canada employees from the Lekwungen Nation.

The Lekwungen people are known today as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations and are part of the larger Salish ethnic group that lived in regions of what we now call Victoria and Vancouver.  Our guides, Cheryl and Steve (English Names), were from the family group named the Whyomith and this is where the name “Esquimalt” was derived from. 

 
 
Lekwungen Ancestral Territory Source:http://web.uvic.ca/~jlutz/courses/hist354b/       pdfs/Lekwammen%20Chapter%20part%20A%20w%20notes.pdf

During the tour our guides explained how their people had lived in harmony with the land and sea for thousands of years.  Over that time they were able to develop an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna, and the harvesting of plants, berries, shellfish and salmon.  Although they establish villages (long houses) throughout the region, they were a mobile people who moved to areas within their territory that offered available food sources during different parts of the year.  They practiced careful management of their resources and harvested food without destroying the land they lived on.  This management of the land and sea was in fact part of their culture.

They shared with us wonderful stories of how the “Transformer” was able to help the people during the great flood by providing shelter and food and how the “Transformer” created the crane, and how the eagle was a very important spiritual animal of intelligence and power.  These were important stories that connected them with their ancestor and had been passed from generation to generation. Listening to our guides describe their people was incredibly inspirational and the idea that knowledge was always in the people and handed down in oral tradition from elders to the next generation for hundreds and possibly thousands of years was truly fascinating. 

What interested me the most is that through an oral history of learning the Lekwungen people are part of their environment instead of exploiting their environment. As part of their culture of learning it is expected that this information will be passed on to the next generation.  Cheryl stated this is taken very seriously in their culture and that she had been taking her nieces and nephews at an early age to the land to teach them about the plants by observing and listening to the stories of their people.

The Lekwungen people have been observing, experimenting, researching and gathering data on their lands for thousands of years. It could be described as being the longest qualitative and quantitative research project in human history.

Postscript…

I want to thank Lucy Ferreira for sending me the following link on listening.  While not from a first nations perspective the speaker, Julian Treasure, speaks about the importance of listening and how we are losing this ability in our society.  Pay particular attention to the end of his talk when he references listening in a spiritual sense.  This is something the Lekwungen people have been doing for a millenia and they have never lost their respect for listening and learning through their oral tradition.  We have much to learn from them.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Learning Through Oral History

  1. Hi Shawn,
    I really like this post about your visit to Fort Rodd and the tour you took there with Cheryl and Steve from the Lekwungen Nation. I think that you raise a really interesting conversation with your description of the culture of these coastal peoples, and how knowledge in their society is transmitted differently from the way it is transmitted in other cultures, like our own. I think this is something that is often overlooked in teaching, the idea that culture shapes the way you interact with others and your environment, and that this in turn affects the way you learn. I found a TED talk today that I was going to use in my own blog post, but I think that it is more closely linked to your reflections on oral traditions and communication, so I thought it would be better placed here. It’s about how to better listen to others in a world that has forgotten how to listen, both to each other and our environment, and how listening carefully makes the world a better place for all. I hope it adds to your ideas about listening and oral traditions, and thanks for sharing your thoughts about the tour at Fort Rodd.

    Lucy

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