My name is MENETIA, I am from the JESINSET “Always trying to better themselves” clan, from the house of CELOWENTET. I am from the WSANEC Nation on southern Vancouver Island.
In this article I will voice both the history and current concerns of the WSANEC people in regards to the sacred mountain known as LAUWELNEW within our territory. The struggle for the protection of our sacred lands is relevant all across WILNEW territory and the many struggles across Turtle Island to keep development out of areas that are vital to the ancient ways of our people. Whether we choose to ignore the war over lands, inherent rights and responsibilities we are all born into as WILNEW, or choose to be a part of the movement towards the return of these lands and the restoration of our responsibilities is only a decision that can be made by each individual WILNEW being. I suggest that the elders give the youth a swift boot with a splash of icy water at the crack of dawn to force the youth to wake up-but that’s just me).
History of LAUWELNEW and the WILNEW
My people get their name from the great flood story that took place thousands of years ago. Many years ago XALS came and told the people that the waters were going to rise and we should prepare our canoes. The people who believed XALS packed their canoes and watched the waters rise higher and higher until the land was becoming less visible. XALS sent the people to the mountain that is known today as LAUWELNEW, not because it was the highest mountain but because it was the chosen place for the WSANEC people to take refuge. In the distance the people could see the top of a tree poking out of the water, the people paddled to the tree and anchored their canoes with cedar ropes to the top of an arbutus tree where they waited for the floodwaters to subside. Days went by and the waters did begin to recede. As the waters diminished, and the land emerged, the people found themselves on top of the mountain which they named LAUWELNEW; translates into “The place of Refuge”. As the people stood on top of LAUWELNEW Mountain they watched as the land revealed itself. A man stood and said “NI QENET TTE WSANEC” which translates into “Look at the emerging land”. This is where my people received their name. We are the WSANEC people that took refuge on LAUWELNEW Mountain many years ago.
My people see LAUWELNEW as a special place where we go and give thanks to XALS for everything that has been given to us. LAUWELNEW is where my people give thanks with the sunrise, where the STOMES (Warriors) discipline their minds, bodies, and spirits in the heart of LAUWELNEW, and where the winter dances open every morning here before the sun rises. Our spiritual practices are based around LAUWELNEW and we continue to give thanks to XALS for giving us a place to escape the flood. On days where the clouds hang low over LAUWELNEW the elders say not to go there because XALS is meditating and to respect XALS time. We respect every part of LAUWELNEW and live by the teachings that created discipline, love, humility, and pride amongst WSANEC peoples.
Over the past 25 years LAUWELNEW has encountered a new struggle and one that needs to be addressed not only by the WSANEC people but WILNEW peoples everywhere. In 1885, LAUWELNEW was purchased by John Dean without the permission of the WSANEC peoples and without the acknowledgment of the sacred ceremonies that have been held in the heart of LAUWELNEW for many years. In the early 1900s John Dean “donated” LAUWELNEW to Parks Canada where the people were under the impression that LAUWELNEW would be safe from any further development- We see today that the word from Parks Canada to protect the land doesn’t go very far because LAUWELNEW is suffering from development today from individual ‘land owners’. LAUWELNEW now has a road bulldozed over the top of it and satellite towers for the use of the WENITEM (Settler) people. There have also been various mansions built all over this mountain by WENITEM developers. The entire development of LAUWELNEW is sickening for the WSANEC peoples to witness. At the same time we are reluctant to attempt to push the WENITEM people off the land because the teaching surrounding LAUWELNEW is not to create conflict in a place that holds peaceful history for the WSANEC peoples. LAUWELNEW is a place for peace and spiritual training, not a place to bring conflict. We are struggling within ourselves at the thought of bringing more conflict to LAUWELNEW, but it needs to be done for the future children who will discipline their minds in the same way my ancestors have over thousands of years.
Recently, our neighbours the LEQENEN people were presented with a struggle for sacred sites in their territory that were threatened to be demolished for the sake of the “Bear Mountain Resort” a resort, founded by Len Barrie. Len Barrie, an ex-NHL player, is building his own little city at the top of what we call SPAET mountain just outside the city of Victoria. Len Barrie and his developers have been threatening many sacred sites that the LEQENEN people hold dear to their hearts because of their ceremonial use.
There is a core group of young LEQENEN and WSANEC people who have been concerned with the preservation of the caves throughout the development of SPAET. In early spring of 2006 the small group of LEQENEN people went to the legislature in Victoria to bring their concerns to the Provincial Government with hopes that they could receive help to stop the demolition of their special sites. We all know how this ended…after the LEQENEN and WSANEC people met with the ministers of Aboriginal Affairs and Recreation & Sports, time passed and nothing was done. An order for an archeological assessment was made and the outcome was as expected. Archeologists looked for rock paintings and items that were left behind. WILNEW people do not build shrines and temples like the WENITEM man and left no ‘substantial evidence of occupation’ behind, as is our way of living in respect for the land. The archeologists said there was no ‘cultural significance’ that they could see: The mind frame of the archeologists/WENITEM people and WILNEW peoples differs widely in what each people holds sacred.
Months later, calls were made late in the evening to inform as many people as possible that the developer was planning to blast the cave early in the next morning. The hope was that as many people as possible be prepared to hike up the mountain early to stop the crew from blasting the cave open. Early in the morning the RCMP arrived and didn’t allow the young people to light a fire and tried to push them off the land. After one night on SPAET, the government and the Bear Mountain Resort developers proposed a two week long “cooling period” to decide what next. This did not benefit anyone but the developer and the name of the Mayor of the city of Langford. When the two weeks were over the people were only ‘allowed’ to have a ceremony for the caves to honor the ancestors that stood in the cave before us. The next time the cave was seen it was blasted to pieces and will be used as a reservoir, according to the future plans of Bear Mountain Resort. I find the story of SPAET heart- breaking and upsetting; once again the LEQENEN and WSANEC peoples have learnt their lesson in not trusting the WENITEM people or trusting their words because they do not see the land the same way we do; as a sacred place that must be respected. The land must be honored, not for our own minds in this life time, but for when we reach the other side when XALS will ask why we were so disrespectful to the land that was given to us to live on.
When dealing with LAUWELNEW we must remember the lessons we learnt from SPAET. We must shield ourselves to the words the WENITEM people are speaking because their words aren’t true to the life that we live as WILNEW peoples.
Today the struggle is to stop further development on LAUWELNEW, to have the ability to stay on the LAUWELNEW as long as the warriors need to, without being threatened with arrest, and with respect of the winter ceremonies that take place. This struggle is on-going and won’t be possible without the support from WILNEW Nations all across the land from one ocean to the next because we all share the same struggles as WSANEC, WILNEW, human beings, and original peoples of this land. We must regain our strength and fight off the WENITEM impurities to our way of life.
Glossary of SENCOTEN words
LAUWELNEW: place of refuge
NI QENET TTE WSANEC: “look at the emerging land”
WSANEC: the emerging people
WILNEW: peoples, original people
WENITEM: people that appeared out of nowhere
XALS: The Creator