Climate Crisis and the Sacred: A Journey of Salvage!

Climate Crisis and the Sacred: A Journey of Salvage!

As part of the Climate Desk partnership, this article was originally published by Canada’s National Observer and is reprinted here.

The Floodwaters Rose

When a storm unleashed a ferocious downpour of rain in November 2021, flooding stealthily and swiftly rose inside Nicole Norris’s family home and neighboring Halalt First Nation homes on Vancouver Island.

According to Norris, an Indigenous planning officer for the British Columbia Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, her brother, who was asleep in the ground-floor suite of the house, was awakened when the overflow from the Chemainus River drowned his leg, which was dangling down the edge of the bed.

The basement of our house was filled with four feet of water. Norris, also known as Alag a mi, said that there was no sound to it.

He immediately called for my daughter, which allowed them to begin retrieving items from the basement.

According to Norris, a weaver, creator of regalia, and keeper of traditional information, not anything of significance was spared.

Because of the wetness in the house, the prints and artwork on the walls were bent. Fortunately, Norris’ stash of wool, loom, and cedar hat tools escaped destruction since they were at her off-reserve apartment, she added.

Norris noted that not many families were as fortunate. Many of the traditional weavers in the neighboring Penelakut Nation lost the wool that had been used to manufacture the renowned Cowichan sweaters or button blankets that were drenched and ruined during the flood.

She highlighted that it was the second consecutive winter flood to hit the Chemainus region in two years, only to be followed by a third in 2022.

Communities of the Cowichan Tribes to the north of Chemainus have recently seen a wave of evacuations and significant flood damage. The hazard of flooding in the area and potential damage to priceless cultural objects are predicted to increase as a result of ongoing climate change, which is also expected to cause increasingly heavy rainstorms.

According to Norris, a new program will now assist First Nations in preserving and repairing priceless artifacts from climate-related catastrophes like fires and floods. Indigenous cultural safety training will be provided in the Strathcona Regional District with $250,000 from BC’s Community Emergency Preparedness Fund.

We’re encouraging First Nations communities from all around Vancouver Island and the central coast to come and take part in seminars so they can get the skills necessary to care for their precious objects on their own, she added.

According to Norris, First Nations homes might resemble museums because they frequently contain relics, holy items, or artwork that has been passed down through the family.

The loss of priceless cultural objects like masks, sculptures, blankets, paddles, or totem poles frequently goes unrecognized, even if damage to homes or communal infrastructure is typically accounted for, insured, and repaired after an event.

Some of these designs or artifacts were made by people who are long gone and have been passed down through generations.

When I conduct quick damage assessments in the neighborhood [after disasters], I focus on everything that wasn’t salvaged, Norris added. Some of these artworks or designs were created by long-dead individuals and have been handed down over the centuries.


Climate Crisis and the Sacred: A Journey of Salvage!

According to Shaun Koopman, the protective services coordinator for Strathcona Regional District, the funding will be used to co-develop a pilot training program and then provide five workshops for First Nations on Vancouver Island who are interested in learning practical skills to preserve, recover, salvage, and restore community or generational belongings or artifacts.

the BC Heritage Emergency Response Network(BCHERN), a volunteer network of heritage and restoration specialists, emergency response personnel, and First Nations cultural workers.

In addition to creating workshop materials, Koopman said emergency response personnel will learn to retrieve artifacts after catastrophes by cooperating with First Nations people in a more culturally sensitive way.

The province’s disaster financial support to communities has loopholes and doesn’t take into account the worth of culturally significant possessions, he continued. In order to develop guidelines about the respectful and proper management of baskets, masks, carvings, drums, feathers, regalia, and other artifacts, BCHERN will also solicit input from First Nations.

A core number of First Nations responders will eventually be trained by the workshops to function as a sacred cultural object salvage strike team, he claimed.

When a calamity happens, the ultimate objective is to make sure that First Nations people are handling and restoring items, particularly sacred artifacts, which call for reverence and ritual and shouldn’t be exposed to anyone outside the community, said Norris.

When it comes to regalia, we have guidelines about what we are permitted to do and what we are not, according to Norris. It’s critical to recognize objects that are sacred and ought to be handled by a First Nations curator, the curator continued.

Norris attended a prior BCHERN restoration program and thinks it is beneficial for both the individual and the community.

Regalia artisans spend a lot of time and money creating sacred items or articles, and these sales are frequently their main source of income, she continued.

Personally, if I lost my wool, my cedar, or if my weaving loom was damaged, I would be distraught, Norris added. The maintenance of our close biological connection to our forebears is at stake here.

For communities looking to repatriate artifacts from museums taken at the height of colonialism, expanding First Nations’ technical capacity to protect and restore artifacts is also important, according to Mindy Ogden, heritage place specialist for Ka: yu: k t h/Che:k tles7et h (Kyuquot/Cheklesath) First Nation on western Vancouver Island.

If we do construct exhibit cases or an artifact room for the repatriation of some precious things from museums, we are also considering the future, she added. Sometimes, museums are reluctant to relinquish those items. They could be curious as to how we plan to ensure the safety of this object.

The emergency planners at KCFN are concerned with compiling an inventory and determining how natural calamities like tsunamis or the climate crisis can affect sacred sites or places of cultural significance, according to Ogden. Climate change-related issues like rising sea levels and more severe storms are on our radar.

Things like a midden and abandoned town sites can begin to deteriorate, which causes the loss of that information.

Read More: Native Groups Want A New National Monument!

Protecting or Restoring

After being almost completely lost, First Nations culture must be rebuilt and preserved, according to carver Matt Jack, who is now creating the first village totem pole for KCFN in decades.

This requires protecting or restoring essential artifacts from weather or natural calamities.

As a type of historical record, totem poles capture and represent the culture and important events of a community at the time they are carved, according to Jack, who is also an elected legislator for the KCFN government.

According to Jack, totem poles depict the timeline that we are currently in.

Much of that, including the carvings, dancing, and songs, has been lost. Our story would thus be that we have been attempting to rebuild and undertake all this work in an effort to try to save it.

Deepak Grover

Deepak works on enviro360 as a senior content editor. He reports on the latest events and changes in the technology, climate, and entertainment industry. Moreover, he is quite interested in knowing every single piece of information about celebrity's lifestyles and daily updates. In his spare time, he enjoys playing and watching a variety of sports, as well as spending time with his family.

Post navigation