Realizing a Vision for Nawalakw Healing Society

Participants in Nawalakw Healing Society planning retreat gather at the Gwa-yas-dums Big House on Gilford Island. Photo by Brodie Guy.

Nawalakw Healing Society holds a vision of hope for Chief Maxwiyalidizi K’odi Nelson. Chief Maxwiyalidizi’s vision is that Nawalakw will serve as a catalyst for social change and become the first place on earth where Kwak’wala is again spoken immersively.

At the invitation of Chief Maxwiyalidizi Coast Funds’ executive director Brodie Guy recently attended a three-day planning retreat exploring how the Nawalakw vision could be realized.

Other attendees included Jason F. McLennan and Christine Lintott of McLennan Design. Architect Jason F. McLennan discussed the retreat in the recent edition of Love + Regeneration Magazine.


Q: TELL ME HOW THIS TRIP CAME ABOUT. WHAT WAS ITS PURPOSE, AND HOW DID YOU END UP ON THE INVITE LIST?

Jason F. McLennan spoke to Love + Regeneration Magazine about the planning journey for Nawalakw Healing Society.

JFM: Power to Give, our host for this trip, supports community based health and wellness initiatives, particularly focused on Canada’s northern communities. This particular trip I was invited on because their Director of Giving, Tim Cormode, heard me talk in Victoria. He had already been working closely with Christine when we met.

Christine and I were part of a larger group of people from all over Canada—funders, influencers, people with specific relevant skills—funded through Power to Give to attend this three-day brainstorming session.

The Musgamagw [Dzawada’enuxw Peoples] in the Broughton Archipelago—just across from the tip of Vancouver Island, BC—have a dynamic young chief, K’odi Nelson. Chief K’odi has a vision of reasserting their presence on this traditional territory, reestablishing their stewardship role, and reconnecting to their traditional culture and language. In addition to wanting to stem illegal logging and poaching, there is a strong desire to also protect cultural assets. Their language is dying out as the elders pass on; there are less and less fluent speakers every year. So Chief K’odi has this idea to put together a cultural center and eco-lodge on this ancestral land that would establish a physical presence for programs of stewardship and also provide a place for a language training and cultural immersion.

Our job is to support the design process for creating the necessary infrastructure for the Nation.

Chief K’odi has a vision of reasserting their presence on this traditional territory, reestablishing their stewardship role, and reconnecting to their traditional culture and language.

Q: UPON ARRIVAL, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE AND THE PEOPLE GATHERED THERE?

JFM: We visited Alert Bay where the [‘Namgis] have a cultural center and where there was a residential school. Later we visited the Big House in Gwa-yas-dums village on Gilford Island where we met Chief Robert Joseph, Bobby Joe, who talked about reconciliation, which was incredible. We also met with several Elders and they shared their support for the vision.

The Gwa-yas-dums Big House on Gilford Island. Photo by Brodie Guy

When we first arrived we were welcomed by a whole group of Elders drumming and singing us a welcome. We were greeted with an unbelievably warm welcome—very formal—with speeches and certain activities for which we don’t have any analogues in our culture; it felt so thin compared to theirs.

Then we went by helicopter to the proposed project site at the end of Bond Sound to get a sense of the land there and hold a ceremony. There’s a ritual for everything. It was palpable; this is the culture that has been subjugated and yet they are the ones that still have the stronger culture. How is it that the supposed conquered is the stronger culture and the conquerors have the weaker culture? It was obvious in a profound way that we needed them more than they needed us. We had more to learn. When you think about reconciliation it’s about the apology, we’re apologizing to you. But it’s also, or more like, we have something more to learn, it’s for our own good. It’s much deeper. You don’t realize that until you’re really presented with it. That was really the spirit and highlight of the trip.

This excerpt is part of an article originally published in Love + Regeneration: https://issuu.com/thelorax/docs/summer_2019 (pages 16-17)

In 2018 and 2019, Coast Funds board of directors approved funding of $81,500 for pre-development planning of Nawalakw Healing Society.