Rising tides: our lands, our waters, our peoples.
Past conferences have brought together north and south Pacific attendees to explore a wide variety of pressing topics such as: 'Our Knowledge, Our Rights: Traditional Knowledge & Pacific Peoples' (1998), 'Governing Our Environment: Pan-Pacific Perspectives on Governance, Local Resources and Aid' (2002), and 'Discoveries and Innovations: Celebrating Indigenous Knowledge and Leadership' (2010).
From September 22 to 26, 2015, PPP carried this legacy forward by hosting its 22nd Pacific Networking Conference: 'Rising Tides: Our Lands, Our Waters, Our Peoples'. The conference was hosted on three unceded Coast Salish territories in and around Greater Victoria, drawing on PPP's long-time recognition of the many shared experiences and issues between Indigenous peoples of the South Pacific and the First Nations of Canada. These issues included the reclaiming of traditional knowledge, land stewardship, Indigenous governance, environmental sustainability, and Indigenous solidarity. Rising Tides successfully linked members of local Indigenous communities , international delegates representing thirteen countries, as well as members of the wider community in an effort to stimulate an exchange of knowledge, ideas, experiences, and strategies that strengthen mutual efforts for change.
What made this conference particularly powerful was its innovative, experience-based itinerary structure. Rather than listening to many speakers in one conference space, three days of the conference were spent with our Coast Salish Tsartlip, T'Sou-ke and Songhees partners. Each one hosted a day that included lively guided tours, artistic demonstrations, the sharing of sacred songs and traditions, and shared meals in their community. All conference participants were invited to attend.
Notable Community Experiences
Conference participants had the opportunity to stand on the summit of PKOLS Mountain while listening to Tsawout Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey explain how this sacred space was unjustly signed away and the meaningful/arduous process that Coast Salish Peoples undertook to reclaim it. PKOLS which means white rock is the name his people gave to the mountain. It represents the beginning of time for the Coast Salish people. In 1852, Governor Douglas met local First Nations and provided them with The Douglas Treaty, which was misconstrued as a peace offering. This process essentially stripped the people of their land and settled them on four different reserves in the region. Therefore, the renaming of PKOLS in 2013 was a tangible act of decolonization. The sharing of this story by Chief Eric Pelkey provided insight for all conference delegates into the power of unity and resilience.
Conference attendees also had the opportunity to visit T'Sou-ke Nation, Canada's First Aboriginal Solar Community. In a guided tour by community representatives, participants viewed massive solar energy panels constructed onto the Fisheries and Treaty Office and other council buildings. Solar panels store energy for times when there is no sun, or the community can sell excess energy back to the electrical grid during the summer months. This illustrated how T'Sou-ke is paving the way towards sustainable energy for future generations.
In partnership with Songhees First Nation, the conference concluded with a Pacific Honouring Feast at the Songhees Wellness Centre. Indigenous Peoples from across Vancouver Island and delegates from around the world were treated to a night of traditional song, dance, poetry, and other entertainment from around the Pacific. The evening also featured the unveiling of a documentary film introduced by Songhees Elder Joan Morris (see her profile on page 27) which expressed her powerful personal ties to the nearby Chatham Islands.
In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, PPP combined the Pacific Networking Conference with our One Wave Festival for the first time! This created an interesting opportunity to incorporate more diverse methods of knowledge sharing, and attracted many members of the wider community to participate in evening programs which included an evening of Pacific films and an evening arts panel featuring South Pacific and Canadian First Nations Artists. There was also an inspiring full day of festival events on September 26, 2015 which welcomed well over 1,000 community members of diverse ages and backgrounds. Clearly this has been a year of uniting programs, people and goals!
"At T'Sou-ke Nation, it was great to see the community garden set-up with a mixture of native and introduced herbs, flowers and plants. The primary focus of the garden is to educate children about the diverse medicinal and nutritional properties of using food from nature to promote healthy living practices. This had motivated me to incorporate some of the community garden and nursery ideas to support local families in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in propagating traditional varieties of medicinal sources and food plants as an alternative to relying on pharmaceutical drugs and medicines which can be more expensive and detrimental to one's health," says Bao Waiko, Director of Save PNG. "I was humbled to see the fantastic work of the Indigenous people of British Columbia, people who are working towards self-determination and creating economic, health and cultural renewal incentives to empower their communities."
From 2014-2015, Alexandra Dawley served as Program Development Coordinator at Pacific Peoples' Partnership. She completed her Masters in International Social Development at the University of Sussex (UK) as a 2013 Rotary Global Scholar. Alexandra works at the InterCultural Association of Greater Victoria.