Leave negative energy at the lodge door
Aboriginal experiences driving B.C. tourism
Old Hands uses an eagle wing to scoop up the sage smoke from his smudge pot and wave it around me, wiping away negative energy and transferring it to the abalone shell pot. The traditional healer asks the higher forces to cleanse, heal and fill me with the Earth Mother’s energy.
I’m happy but verging on uneasy during this private smudging ceremony. Maybe it’s because Old Hands (the 67-year-old elder’s preferred name) sprinkled tobacco on four corners of a purple rug and told me to enter from any direction without knowing what each represents.
What’s unique about this smudging ceremony is that it’s happening on the sixth floor of the Skwachays Lodge, an Aboriginal arts hotel in Vancouver.
Old Hands is Shoshone from California but living in Surrey with his Gitxsan-alutiiq wife. He served in the Vietnam War and understands PTSD, which helps him be “a really good healer” for both Aboriginal and nonAboriginal people. “Religions are like cellphones — everybody has a different one, but we all call the same operator,” Old Hands quips. He also loves to quote his late grandfather, who used to say: “We live in a magical world, but nobody looks for the magic.”
Maybe most people are wilfully blind to the spirit world, but some of us are on a hunt for it. I’ve come to British Columbia to explore Canada’s burgeoning aboriginal tourism scene.
I talk about this with Paula Amos over dinner at Salmon n’ Bannock after exploring the Museum of Anthropology at UBC’S collection of Northwest Coast First Nations arts with totem poles aplenty and views of the Coast Mountains and Salish Sea.
Amos is with Aboriginal Tourism BC, which expects to attract 2.2 million visitors and generate $1.5 billion in spending on trips with an aboriginal experience within five years. It already has more than 90 experiences and is only in its early stage of development.
She’s of Hesquiaht and Squamish Nation descent and a big fan of Salmon n’ Bannock — and its co-owner Inez Cook, of the Nuxalk Nation — and thrilled that a tiny Pacific Coast fish called ooligan (candlefish) is on tonight’s menu. We order everything from the salmon sampler (wild salmon prepared three ways — candied, ceviche and mousse) and bison back ribs to bannock, of course.
“First Nations — we’re ‘in’ right now,” says Cook. “It’s awesome to be able to showcase my heritage with pride.”
Another woman proudly showcasing her Sechelt First Nations culture is Candace Campo of Talaysay Tours who runs cultural and eco experiences such as the Talking Trees Walk at Stanley Park.
Lewis, from Squamish Nation, kicked off our guided walk with singing and drumming. She shows how a decaying red cedar tree can be turned into a dried paint and how thick bark was used for smoke signals. We talk about berries and ducks and cattails and moss. We stop to drink tea from a thermos, admiring the red cedar (“tree of life”).
I also marvelled at cedar at the Audain Art Museum in Whistler. And at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, after eating bannock tacos in the Thunderbird Café, I was taught Coast Salish wool weaving by Allison Burnsjoseph of Squamish Nation.
Using a table loom, I made a wall hanging. “When wool weavers weave,” Burns-joseph says, “they do it with love, respect and honour so that the wearers will be protected.”
old hands with a smudge pot and eagle wing at skwachays Lodge in Vancouver. The city of Vancouver, with more than 52,000 First Nations people, is on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, squamish and Tsleil-waututh.