Trisha Barranoik, Sean Gamley, Adrian Koch, Stephanie McCallum, Krista Shea and Daryl Wright.
Submitted to Royal Roads University EECO 586 The Biosphere and Sustainability
The Squamish Nation (SN) is a Coast Salish people residing on coastal mainland British Columbia (BC) who have developed cultural, social, and religious worldviews that frame their interpretation and understanding of environmental events. Traditionally, lifestyles of SN peoples were intrinsically linked to nature and place, putting them in balance with the environment. Currently, they rely on nature spiritually (deceased ancestors become part of nature) and practically [using land for food and economic gain (i.e., tourism)] (Fletcher, 2000).
In a rapidly modernizing and globalizing world, the SN maintains its traditional culture and connection to the land by valuing the forest and the wilderness (Squamish Nation, 2013). This tradition shapes the Squamish worldview and helps frame how they perceive and interpret ecological events, and the factors of power and agency. For this report, a literature review was conducted to gain insight into SN worldviews through which Local Environmental Observations (LEOs) regarding the prevalence of Forest Tent Caterpillars (FTC)…
Worldviews are cognitive and perceptual maps that people use throughout their lifetime to make sense of the social landscape and achieve goals they seek. Worldviews are unfinished, collective works that connect shared goals; thereby, allowing for the possibility of change (Van Opstal & Huge, 2013). The Squamish people rely directly on the environment for survival and therefore have a deep connection to the land and ocean (Fletcher, 2000). This deep connection is evident through traditional storytelling which supports the connection to the environment, the community, and kin (Barnett, 1938). Traditional connections to the land, such as shared knowledge involved in subsistence activities (i.e. fishing), form the foundation for Squamish spirituality and environmental events. It informs how they communicate with each other, the natural world, and non-indigenous people working with them (such as governments). Through visualization techniques, such as 3D modelling, people can more effectively understand the land and communicate with each other about issues like environmental sustainability (Lewis & Sheppard, 2006).
Types of Basline Knowledge
A worldview common in developed nations promotes adaptation as a method for dealing with various environmental issues, such as climate change, and is a means of addressing these issues using technology (O’Brien, 2012). Adaptation places the onus on others to fix problems instead of individuals taking responsibility for their actions. O’Brien (2012) suggests that transformation is a better means of addressing environmental issues. It is a concept that involves challenging and altering beliefs, values, and behaviours to create real change to ameliorate environmental problems. The SN also uses the concept of transformation as a foundation to their worldview. They view ancestors as those who have transformed into aspects of the natural world around them, such as plants and animals (Fletcher, 2000). Both ideas of transformation involve a conceptual leap that offers a fundamental shift in understanding as to the value of the natural world. It internalizes the value of nature and allows for deeper understanding of environmental issues when communicating among different communities and trying to understand and learn from each other’s.
Through the worldview lens, baseline knowledge should be a constructive conversation between communities and cultures (Van Opstal & Huge, 2013). Individuals and groups perceive reality through their own lens, influenced by their culture and life experience, which in turn affects their way of learning and communicating information. Stakeholders should be aware that conceptualization of an issue may not be shared by all and that in order to truly understand each other and our issues, worldviews and concepts need to be shared and understood in order to be incorporated into solutions (Van Opstal & Huge, 2013).
The traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of the Squamish people, transmitted orally from generation to generation, differs from dominant worldviews (Van Opstal & Huge, 2013) and is based on decades of direct observations and experiences gained over centuries. It is also adapted to the local culture and environment (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, n.d.). This knowledge involves a deep, practical, and symbolic understanding of natural elements such as Howe Sound and rivers, forests and wildlife, cycles of seasons and weather patterns, and natural rhythms of dynamic ecosystems. TEK has prepared them to be in tune with nature and to detect, identify, as well as assess changing conditions. It is also the means and foundation for how they learn about the world around them and communicate with and educate others.
Values are trans-situational conceptions of the desirable that give meaning to beliefs and events, as well as guide and influence behaviour and actions (Wolf, Alice & Bell, 2013). As a result, similar situations or impacts, such as an unusual environmental observations, can be interpreted in very different ways (Wolf et al., 2013). The mandate of the SN Chiefs and Council is to enhance cultural values and traditions through respect, equality, and harmony for all (Squamish Nation, 2013). This helps to strengthen the leadership relationships (Squamish Nation, 2013) in social, political, and scientific arenas.
The knowledge they provide enables the maintenance of traditional values and reaching collective goals and objectives (Squamish Nation, 2013). TEK is no longer viewed as an afterthought to environmental decision-making and policy development; instead, it helps builds partnerships and strong relations with all stakeholders (Squamish Nation, 2013), as well as develop effective co-management strategies to deal with environmental issues (Ross et al., 2009).
Power and Agency
From a sociological perspective, First Nations groups in Canada, including the SN, represent a vulnerable people who have an inequitable share of power and influence. Historically, this relegated indigenous people to a status on the sidelines. However, recent acknowledgements of TEK, from both a scientific and political standpoint, have served to elevate their position to advisors, ambassadors, and ecologists.
TEK has been acquired over thousands of years and is specific to a location; it includes relationships among plants, animals, natural phenomena, and timing of events as they relate to activities, such as hunting, fishing, agriculture, and forestry (US Fish and Wildlife Services, 2011). Evolving by adaptive processes, the value of TEK is handed down through generations by cultural transmission (US Fish and Wildlife Services, 2011) and plays an important role to those who use it in their daily lives (Convention on Biological Diversity, n.d.).
The SN would likely view the prevalence of FTC along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border (Martell, 2017) as an example of both the cyclical quality of nature and an area of ecological concern. While the SN believes non-human beings are part of the community, the FTC represent a concerning shift in the community dynamics (Roland, Mackey & Cooke, 1998) and reflect a potential imbalance in nature. Tent Caterpillars cannot tolerate cold winters beyond a certain threshold (Cooke and Roland, 2003), so as climate change alters ecological balance, and warmer winter temperatures enable increased survival, these caterpillars demonstrate adaptation to new climate realities and changes in seasonal weather patterns. The SN understands that the inter-relatedness of natural elements and the change in ecosystem dynamics signal the need for alternative approaches in dealing with environmental issues. This understanding could help inform others about the need for ecological adaptation or mitigation to deal with this issue.
For the Squamish, forests are a key cultural and environmental resource because they provide: setting for hunting and cultural events; resources for goods; home for flora and fauna; and, clean air. The SN recognizes the role of long-term natural cycles, which guides their belief in the Thirteen Moons System (Fletcher, 2000). Under this system, religion and ecological events are closely tied so when changes to the cycle occur, it upsets the religious and cultural time scales. This information, as TEK, can be communicated to non-indigenous to further collective understanding of environmental issues.