Demonstrating Cascadia Decolonization – Recognizing Indigenous History

For Cascadia to truly be a decolonizing movement, there needs to be some collective action among the people who live here showing a desire to move away from the exploitative and divisive systems that colonialism perpetuates, even today. Many people ask (and rightfully so) what exactly is decolonization? What does that look like and how can I participate?

I had the great pleasure of living in Australia for a number of years not long ago. Many things there stood out as distinct from my life here in the Pacific Northwest, but one thing impressed me and has stayed with me during the time since I have returned. It was a “Welcome to Country” or aboriginal blessing used to start public gatherings.

This tradition unfolds as the Master of Ceremonies opening any event, meeting or  would greet the assembly, and then recognize the name of the aboriginal stewards upon whose land we were then gathered. At larger events such as public celebrations or concerts, aboriginal elders would be invited to come and deliver a traditional welcome ceremony or speech usually in their mother tongue before English.

The purpose of this protocol is to celebrate place, the people who’ve sustained it, and to always hold space for their culture which perseveres. Aborigines, similar to the indigenous peoples of Cascadia, have a strong connection to their land itself, and can speak to the interdependence of  all living things. Their culture is inherently bioregional.

At the root, this is why this observance of “Welcome to Country” is so important. Placing indigenous heritage at the forefront interrupts the dominance of the colonial narrative and literally hands the mic to the land stewards, inheritors of  this space for thousands of years. Allotting native traditions this prime time signals that the rest of us are ready to listen and learn about the indigenous ways of being that predate colonialism, and can lead us to a sustainable future together.

I’ve prepared a quick script outline of a “Welcome to Country” style intro that’s culturally tailored to the Pacific Northwest called the “Klahowya Cascadia” so that we may institute this tradition here. It begins with a greeting in Chinook Wawa, the traditional trade language used all across Cascadia before European contact: “Klahowya Tilikum” meaning Welcome Everyone.

There are two examples. The first assumes you have arranged for a native elder or representative to address your group. Its purpose is simply to introduce that individual, after which time, they would be welcome to proceed as they see fit.

Example 1

Klahowya Tilikum!

Welcome everyone! I would like to recognize that we are assembled today on the land of the (Insert Local Tribe Name Here) people, who have been the stewards of it for over seven thousand years. It is my pleasure to introduce (Insert Name Here) from the that tribe to open our proceedings.

As it might not always be possible to have an indigenous representative present to open your meetings and events, I’ve written a second example that assumes I am talking from downtown Seattle, and thus recognizes the Duwamish tribe, and tells a little bit about the native history so that those in attendance can create a better connection to the land and its heritage.

Example 2

 Klahowya Tilikum!

Welcome everyone! I would like to recognize that we are assembled today on the land of the Duwamish people, who have been the stewards of it for over seven thousand years. We are currently near the site of the former village of Dze Dze La Letch, where six cedar longhouses stood, and Chief Si’ahl lived. He once said:

“ Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Thank you.

This simple practice of recognizing the indigenous inhabitants, and speaking about their traditions & teachings is one of the critical steps in building a decolonizing movement. and towards becoming the Cascadian community we can be.

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