It doesn’t take much to say thank you, Victoria

Op-eds Opinions
Image via victoriaharbourhistory.com

Two separate school assignments brought me to Pallastsis Point on a Sunday afternoon early in this school year. 

The landmark, also called Songhees Point, is one of seven known as the “Signs of Lekwungen” and sits across the water from the Empress Hotel.  

Although I have passed by Pallastsis Point several times over the years, this was the first time I was looking for the Songhees Nation in the landscape, where cradles were once placed after the Songhees children had learned to walk. 

It is believed that the water offered spiritual powers and placing a cradle by the water would ensure the child’s long life. 

Today, a spindle whorl, designed by Butch Dick of the Songhees Nation, now stands at the site to symbolize its sacredness. A welcome sign generously extended years prior from the Songhees Nation also stands nearby. 

The welcome honours all nations. Yet even though this sign was completed in partnership with the City of Victoria, no acknowledgement from the city thanking the Songhees for their generous hospitality accompanies this sign. 

Even though the welcome sign and spindle whorl are accessible and located in an affluent part of Victoria, both cultural markers are getting old and have been neglected by the City of Victoria. Thus, some parts of the signage in that area are no longer legible. 

Vast wealth surrounds Pallastsis Point. A magnificent Delta Hotel sits footsteps away, and attractive condominiums sprawl through the Songhees Walk. 

Having enough resources for a gratitude plaque from the settlers of Victoria to stand right beside the welcome plaque is not an issue. There are clearly more than enough resources to ensure not just this plaque, but proper maintenance of the already existing one. 

What could justify this silence and neglect?

I spent all afternoon thinking about what it means that the City of Victoria has not officially thanked the Songhees through a written plaque or maintained the welcome sign to honour the Songhees Nation and their hospitality.

The greatest danger in the absence of gratitude and the apparent neglect of the welcome that is generously extended by the Lekwungen people at Pallastsis Point is the impact that it will have on future generations, who will continue to perpetuate colonialism if settlers do not start acknowledging the gratitude they have for the land they are visiting, and reciprocating the generosity of the Lekwungen peoples.

Additionally, because visitors aren’t being brought over to the site markers by tour guides to introduce them to the history of the land, it would seem that the sign and spindle whorl were empty gestures made by the City of Victoria.

But there is something even more insidious than what the neglect and isolation represents. Politically enlightened settlers are quick to condemn the residential school system for how it attempted to erase Indigenous cultures and spirituality, but are we not doing the same thing through occupation and erasure of Pallastisis Point?  

The Songhees children are being deprived of the prayers and practices to which they have an inherent right because the land has not been returned to ensure that the practice resumes. 

The absence of gratitude — in spite of the available resources that could make an elaborate acknowledgement of reciprocity possible — seems to imply that those trespassing and occupying Songhees Point do not require a welcome because they believe they are entitled to the land and water.

Verbal land acknowledgements are a fairly new phenomenon in response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yet those who actively practice it know that it is not enough to simply acknowledge the land. So, what will it take to share your gratitude, Victoria?