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Rande Cook

Ink on paper

30.5″ x 25.5″ x 1.75″


Culturally Modified: The Relationships That Marked a Place in Time

Deep within the forests and along the coastline stands vast amounts of trees with scars marked by the Indigenous peoples from hundreds of years before. It is said amongst the Kwa’kwa’ka’wakw that trees hold a life of their own. Long ago, before colonial intervention swept the land, the relationships formed between the Kwa’kwa’ka’wakw and the living forests were seamless. The Kwa’kwa’ka’wakw people looked toward the forest for its many gifts. With the energy flowing through the entire ecosystem, much of the forest nourished the people and gave way to a Governance structure.

It was said long ago that before a tree was harvested, a prayer was said of gratitude: “breathe life into me as I breathe life into you.” This relationship opened many ceremonies and rituals; for example, the cutting of the bark in the Red Cedar Bard Ceremonies before a Potlatch symbolized the cutting of the umbilical cord between child and mother. The Forest was known to be female and all that was birthed in forms of ceremonies were gifts.

Over the years, these trees have come to be known as Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs). Today, they are the last remaining evidence of Indigenous peoples and their interactions with their traditional lands, as many today still remain on reserve lands. With industry now sweeping through and clear cutting old growth for exportation [and profit], many of these CMTs are being cut down in the process. By removing old growth, not only are we contributing to climate change, we are also destroying the sustained living environments of plants and animals. Without the breath coming from the Tree of Life we are killing off the entire ecosystem around them.

CMTs are educational markers that contribute to the knowledge carried within the forest ecology. These trees not only mark areas of Indigenous lands, but give proof of sustainable living. The Indigenous peoples knew you could harvest from a tree without killing it. In defence of these CMTs, many Indigenous people are pleading with the government that they are worth more standing, while the industry only sees value in cutting them down.

The air we breathe is purified by the trees that surround us. Clean air and oxygen fills our bodies so that we can carry on giving back to the natural environment. This is an ancient Kwa’kwa’ka’wakw lesson worth preserving.

Write-up by Rande Cook