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Land and Language Roots Q&A

In celebration of Earth Day, and to continue our dedication to learning more about the intrinsic connection between land and language, we have interviewed Andrea Lyall, Kwak̓wala, about her experiences, insight and passion for the outdoors. We are incredibly grateful for our friends and partners are Terralingua for facilitating this interview.

Andrea at G̱wayasdums. Photo: Keith Atkinson, 2016

Please introduce yourself:

It is a Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw tradition to introduce oneself in Kwak̓wala by stating your names (both Kwak̓wala and English names), your parents’ and grandparents’ names, where you are from, and your family heritage:

Nugwa'a̱m Andrea. Gayutła̱n lax̱ G̱wa’yasda̱m’s.

(My name is Andrea. I am from Gilford Island.)

Ron Lyall xtła̱n ump. Gayutłi lax̱ Britain.

(Ron Lyall is my father's name. He is from Britain.)

Louisa Lyall xtła̱n (née Coon) a̱ba̱mp'wa̱łe'. Gayutł wa̱łi lax̱ G̱wa’yasda̱m’s.

(Louisa Lyall (née Coon) was my mother's name. She was from Gilford Island.)

Alfred Coon xtła̱n g̱a̱'g̱a̱mp wa̱łe'. Gayutł wa̱łi lax̱ G̱wa’yasḏam’s.

(Alfred Coon was my grandfather's name. He was from Gilford Island.)

Mary Dick xtła̱n g̱ag̱as wa̱łe. Gayutł wa̱łi lax̱ Gwa’yi.

(Mary Dick was my grandmother's name. She was from Kingcome Inlet.)

My First Nations heritage is through my mother, the late Louisa Lyall (née Coon), a first language speaker of Kwak̓wala and member the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw Nation. I am of half-English descent and grew up in an urban context, in Coast Salish traditional territory (present-day Victoria and the lower mainland B.C.). By training and occupation, I am a professional forester with 25 years of work experience. In my career, I have worked directly with over thirty First Nations in North America, including as a participant in research projects. I am now a doctoral student in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Musqueam people. My research focuses on the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw’s knowledge and relationship with the forests. I hope to complete my program at UBC this year.

Q: Please share your favorite story or experience with the land, nature, animals, your environment, etc.

Quoting myself from a Terralingua article I wrote in 2017; ( “When I was young, I remember walking in the woods with my mum and her teaching me which berries to pick and which ones not to pick —  and she remembered the Kwak̓wala names! This was unique because she forgot, or decided to forget, her first language at residential school, St. Michael’s in Alert Bay. Yet, while berry picking, she would exclaim, “ʦa̱ǥa̱ł!” (thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus) and other plants names, too. These were happy times walking in the woods because I shared my mum’s excitement of her remembered Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw ecological knowledge and Kwak̓wala.”

My passion for the outdoors began since childhood. A favourite pastime is to pick berries with loved ones, particularly my family, nieces, and now grand niece!

Q: How has your knowledge of ancestral land and language practices shaped your view of harvesting food and other natural resources?

Over this last decade, I have worked collecting medicinal plants and making salves, tinctures, and soaps. It is a lot of fun and a great way to experience the lands in the language is hands-on. There is also a lot to learn. I have learned from my teachers, Elders, education, work, books, and recreation. I have also taught students how to make salves over the years.

I learned how to identify plants over my career and life. As a keener, I think I am pretty good, but there are always icons in the plant world. For me, learning about plants is multi-dimensional. Initially, it meant plant identification and learning the Kwak̓wala, English, and Latin names.

In 2014, I led a community-led plant reclamation project: Learning to identify and name plants is step one – an important lesson to do correctly. After that, there was learning the various plant uses and the ecology of where to find each plant.

Then there is learning how to harvest plants ethically. There are many lessons to learn about when to harvest plants, how to harvest plants, which parts of the plants to harvest, and to be aware of the source of the plants to consider that they are not from uncontaminated areas. Plants tell you how the land is doing in their expressions.

I don’t have a copy yet, but many spiritual and ethical considerations about plant teachings seem to be outlined in “Held by the Land: A Guide to Indigenous Plants for Wellness” by Leigh Joseph from the Squamish Nation.

So in recognition of the many lessons from the lands, particularly plants, I took the teachings slowly. When I was moving from gathering berries to making medicinal plants - to make it more accessible, I learned and focused on working with and just adding one new plant per year.

It is fun. Pick your teachers. There are many – including the land and plants.

Q: What is your advice for those searching for a deeper understanding/connection to their language?

It has been years, and I still consider myself a beginner speaker. I have trouble with pronouncing many of the sounds that are not in English - this might not change for me:). So, patience is obviously key. Also being happy with small victories and milestones. For me, I am happy that I can understand quite a bit more. Or when I can pronounce a word from reading it from a written orthography. My aunts and uncles now know that I am interested in the language and speak the language with me often. I am lucky that I can still listen to the language from natural born speakers.

Q: What are your hopes for the future in regards to land and language preservation?

I am optimistic about the future of language and cultural heritage preservation in many communities. I am noticing increasing efforts in reclamation projects that youth out on the lands and ongoing language reclamation projects that need to continue into future generations.

Any final thoughts? Please feel free to share.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment! This is a great reminder and motivation for me of a project that I would like to take up again into the future on this very project - language and the land.

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