In Conserving BCD

Recovering the Connection between People and the Environment through Ancestral Law in British Columbia, Canada

July 09, 2015

Project Contributor: Patricia Vickers

The Nisga’a People of the Nass River have lived on the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada for generations — long enough for a culture to thrive, adapt, and endure. For the Nisga’a Nation, the meaning of the relationship between people and the environment is found in metaphor and stories. This long-held connection has been undermined by the long-term effects of colonization (in which residential schools played an enormous role) and unsustainable development choices such as fish farming and clear-cut logging, because of the immediate need to alleviate poverty. This has tended to undermine the development of initiatives that honour and revitalize culture, such as cultural centres and retreats and programs for children, community members, and tourists.

The project “Transforming the Cage,” supported by the Laxgalts’ap Village Government, aimed to identify the roots of an internalized sense of inferiority that affects the Nisga’a, due to the history of oppression from colonization, and the impact that this has on daily living. Ayuuk (ancestral law) is promoted to deal with conflicts in family and business relationships. The Ayuuk holds the knowledge of rites of passage, protocol for marriage, birth and death, and resolving conflict, and guides the Nisga’a in creating spiritual balance in a reciprocal relationship with the environment at both the individual and the collective levels. The Nisga’a Lisims Government — a modern administration that draws from traditional culture and values — has worked with the Nisga’a Nation to build a culture and economy that respect and protect the Nisga’a natural and cultural heritage. In the words of the Nisga’a Lisims Government, today the Nisga’a Nation is a place where “our Ayuuk, language, and culture are the foundation of our identity; learning is a way of life; [and] we strive for sustainable prosperity and self-reliance.”