Learning the importance of ecological inter-connectedness from a Nuu-chah-nulth perspective

Information runs down to our children like water travels down a stream, and over the last four weeks, Uu-a-thluk has been a part of that critical knowledge transfer through its participation in the annual “Gently Down the Creek” programming.

With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and the return of in-person events, Uu-a-thluk’s Capacity Building Coordinator, Alison Wale, was able to impart valuable Nuu-chah-nulth ecological knowledge to Alberni Valley elementary school students for the first time in two years.

“I let them run from tree to tree, to get their energy out, so it was easier for them to absorb the info I was sharing with them,” said Wale playfully, when asked about her first-ever delivery of Gently Down the Creek content.

Since approximately 2014, Uu-a-thluk has been sharing Nuu-chah-nulth knowledge and natural resource management principles with students from local schools including Haahuupayak, E.J Dunn and Maquinna Elementary School.

Students arrive by bus to the McLean Mill National Historic Site to participate in half-day module programming that is delivered in partnership with Dave Clough (registered professional biologist) and Jake Leyenaar Salmon Hatchery staff. Programming is made possible by Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Stream to Sea Program.

Over the years, Uu-a-thluk’s associate and southern region biologists, and capacity building coordinators, have delivered the content. Occasionally, special guests have also stepped in.

“We had Cliff Atleo (Wickaninnish) come out a couple of times to explain Nuu-chah-nulth management principles – it was good,” recalled Jim Lane, Uu-a-thluk’s Deputy Program Manager.

While walking along forest trails, and the Kitsuksis Creek bank, students learn about a wide array of topics, from the Nuu-chah-nulth perspective.

They learn about the uses of plants including wetland plants like timuut (skunk cabbage) and cat tails and discuss the benefits of pioneer species like moss. They are introduced to the concept of invasive species like Scotch broom and the American bullfrog and explore traditional fishing methods.

Students are educated on the importance of cedar trees to Nuu-chah-nulth culture and learn about the ways Nuu-chah-nulth peoples have utilized the trees over millennia (basket weaving from strips, shawl creation and the building of houses).

“You can’t just strip cedars any time of the year,” said Huu-yiik, Sabrina Crowley, Uu-a-thluk’s Southern Region Biologist, while leading a group of second-grade students from Wood Elementary School on a rainy day in late April. “You have to wait until a certain time of the year, when the sap starts oozing down the tree.”

The conversation flows from trees to forest ecosystems, and how plants, animals, water, rocks and soil are deeply connected to one another. Students learn the definition of a riparian area (the interface between land and a river or stream), and the effects logging has on salmon streams.

At the core of Uu-a-thluk’s Gently Down the Creek module are the Nuu-chah-nulth principles of ‘hishukish ts’awalk’ (everything is connected, everything is one), and ‘iisaak’ (respect with caring).

During her walks, Wale parlayed these principles as they relate to salmon and the forest, and found the concept resonated with students.

“The kids were interested in how the salmon directly affect the forest,” observed Wale.

“How when the salmon go to the ocean, they eat up marine-derived nutrients and bring them back to the streams and rivers. How what doesn’t get eaten by c?ims (bears), c?ix#atin (eagles), waaxnii (river otters), c?aastimc (mink) and other animals works as fertilizer for our lush forests, and how bear scat spreads the fertilizer.”  Wale noted that any conversation about scat gets a laugh out of the groups.

The conversation about salmon does not end there.

The other two modules in the students’ day include a tour of the salmon hatchery and participation in a cuw?it (coho) salmon fry release into Kitsuksis Creek near the footbridge that connects the hatchery site with McLean Mill National Historic Site.

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