BWCWA: Gathering at Royal Roads University, March 6, 2020
By Heather Fitzgerald and Julia Lane
It is a sunny Friday morning in early Spring. We are 17 writing centre professionals from across BC and one Elder from the Cowichan Nation. We are gathered together, in a circle, in Sneq’wa e’lun, also known as the Blue Heron House, on Royal Roads University’s picturesque grounds. As described in Royal Roads’ land acknowledgment, the land on which the University stands is defined by the 1850 Douglas Treaty with the Teechamitsa people. Today, the Kwsepsum (Esquimalt), Lekwungen (Songhees), Scia’new (Beecher Bay) and T’Sou-ke (Sooke) First Nations have members who are descendants of the Teechamitsa.
Our view in one direction is Esquimalt Lagoon with its active avian and aquatic life; in the other, the majestic Hatley Castle, a national historic site. Within the room, the view was equally inspiring– in the four corners of the room were set up photographs and large-format texts drawn from the Four Feathers Writing Guide, the topic of our day’s discussions.
The day began in a good way. Elder Shirley Alphonse (THE-LA-ME-YÉ) invited us, one-by-one, to be smudged. After this cleansing ceremony, Shirley led us in an opening prayer to focus our minds on good intentions before we began the day’s conversations together. Theresa Bell, Royal Roads’ Blended Learning Success Manager, then told us the story of how the Four Feathers Writing Guide came to be and what its effects have been within their community. She acknowledged the absent presence (or present absence) of Elder Nadine Charles (TEȺȽIE) from the SC’IÁNEW̱ Nation in Sooke. Elder Nadine, Elder Shirley, and Theresa collaborated for many months together to create this innovative writing guide, grounded in Coast Salish Knowledge. Nadine passed away in February 2019, and the Four Feathers Guide is dedicated to her memory. We felt her spirit with us throughout our gathering in the image of the spread-wing cormorant keeping watch over the lagoon just outside our window.
Our conversations were engaged and wide-ranging. Within our circle, all questions and voices were welcomed, and we were asked to share, listen and be present. Some of the resources that we shared and discussed were
- Dr. Shawn Wilson: Research is Ceremony: Researching Within an Indigenous Paradigm
- Willie Ermine: What is Ethical Space?
- Willie Ermine: Ethical Space in Action
- Thomas King’s The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative, the audio version of which is available here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-2003-cbc-massey-lectures-the-truth-about-stories-a-native-narrative-1.2946870
- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson: Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation
- Gregory Younging: Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples
- Daniel David Moses: Pursued by a Bear: Talks, Monologues and Tales
Our conversations continued through lunch and into the afternoon, when Theresa took us on a guided tour of the stunning Royal Roads gardens and adjacent forest park. Our final view, as we returned to Sneq’wae’lun, was of a flock of blue herons passing overhead.
We are grateful for having been able to participate in this day of sharing and learning together, especially in the wake of the global pandemic that has since kept us all socially distanced from one another. We are further grateful for the careful, caring, inspirational work that has gone into creating the Four Feathers Writing Guide; the Coast Salish Knowledge that it shares helps us, as Writing Centre professionals, re-consider and re-frame writing. We look forward to the ways that we can continue to deepen and implement this learning.
Thank you to Elder Shirley Alphonse and Teresa Bell for their gracious hosting.