Ask an expert - First Nations culture

What Snuneymuxw First Nation traditions and culture remain evident in Nanaimo?

In our modern, fast-moving world, it isn’t always easy to stop and consider traditions and culture, or understand how we came to be who we are as a society.

For a culture that still clings to a deep connection with land, air, water and all living things, it’s even more difficult, but that’s the challenge that Snuneymuxw First Nation faces every day.

As Snuneymuxw elders die, says Geraldine Manson, cultural advisor for the band, they take with them vast knowledge of language, heritage, history and culture, largely because much of First Nation culture is passed along through stories and oral teachings.

But a new program devised by the First Nation will use modern technology to record that knowledge for current and future Snuneymuwx generations to learn from.

“Traditional Knowledge Keepers is a program where we interview 11 of our elders on customs and protocols,” said Manson. “Under different categories each elder will be asked to recall their knowledge. We have someone to document their information to video so by the end of the project we’ll have a DVD titled Traditional Knowledge and each one will be on subjects like hunting, fishing, gathering, harvesting, travel and sports.”

The DVDs created as a result of Traditional Keepers will be available for all 1,700 Snuneymuxw members to watch and learn from.

Maintaining Snuneymuxw’s Hul’q’umin’um language is also a priority.

Currently, the band’s cultural leaders are working on another project that will add storybooks in their traditional language for young ones from daycare and kindergarten to Grade 4 to read as part of the school curriculum.

Teachers and others who are connected to the community are also being taught Hul’q’umin’um in an effort to preserve the language before it’s too late.

Raising newborns with traditional values is also part of the project. Building Better Babies will share traditional Snuneymuxw wisdom with young families on raising a child in the traditional Snuneymuxw way.

All of these projects designed to preserve culture fall under the umbrella of Snawayalth, or sacred teachings, to help Snuneymuxw members understand how to make the best decisions on how to interact with traditional territory and each other.

“There is a fear that some knowledge is being lost,” said Manson. “It’s always a fear. No matter if we continue recording and collecting information, whether it’s through language or storytelling, or a school curriculum, when we look into our community today we see how many of our cultural elders are gone, our traditional ones that practiced and lived that life. So now we who walk that life are seeing the urgency of documenting.”

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