Comment: We are stronger together only if guided by respect

Chief Ron Sam and Chief Rob Thomas

A commentary by the chiefs of the Songhees Nation and Esquimalt Nation.

The acts of vandalism on the statue on the grounds of the legislature last Friday are concerning, particularly from a cultural perspective.

As the Lekwungen Peoples, the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, we have protocols and ways in which we conduct ourselves on others’ territories. These protocols have proudly been passed on since time immemorial.

Without our permission or knowledge, this act of aggression and insult has crossed boundaries and a significant error of judgement has now led to serious misconception as to who may have written ­“Lekwungen” on the statue.

Anyone who participated in this recent act of vandalism has no cultural role or right to act or speak on our behalf.

Such misrepresentation leads to assumptions that the Lekwungen Nations were complicit or responsible for this act. This is not the case. Assigning this act of disrespect to our two Lekwungen Nations is wrong and harmful.

We are proud of the relationships of trust and respect that we have developed with many organizations and individuals throughout the capital region.

There are groups, however, approaching our Nations to work together, who erroneously assume that our presence, our trust and our offering of support gives them liberties to ignore our values and protocols.

These misguided assumptions tokenize the understanding of our protocols, of who we are and what we stand for.

A member of the Lekwungen Nation was invited to welcome every­one and open the work in a good way on the grounds of the legislature last Friday.

Unfortunately, there was a complete disregard for the cultural guidance being provided and a lack of understanding of the intentions of our protocols.

This type of behaviour shows a lack of understanding of cultural safety from an Indigenous perspective and practice; and, more importantly, from a Lekwungen world view. We can all learn from this.

We welcome shared concerns for the environment and sacred lands and waters. We do not, however, permit outsiders to speak or act on our behalf. Those who wish to work with us must first consider their relationship to our Nations and how they behave as they walk beside us and on our lands.

We ask that external groups witness, observe and learn to walk respectfully on our lands. We ask that they speak their concerns and allow us space to do our work so that we can affirm and reaffirm ourselves as Lekwungen, in our own voices and on our lands.

Recent events have brought people together across cultures. We are stronger together, however, only if we can direct energy and our hearts to positive outcomes that are guided by respect.

On Tuesday, June 8, we, the Lekwungen Peoples, demonstrated how to build unity and strength in a good way through sensitive and heartfelt work in honour of the burial site found by the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc.

Let this good work define us.

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