First Nations Storytelling
“Where do stories
come from, and when
do they become ours?
when do they become
everyone’s?” - Shane Koyczan
Shane Koyczan has been telling his story quietly since childhood but now shares it on a global stage. The several First Nations that call Clayoquot Sound home have celebrated the oral tradition for millennia, and their legends have traveled up and down this coast. As the influence of each storyteller grows it ensures the narratives don’t belong to any one person. They grow and move through history. There is no natural copyright. When Shane Koyczan speaks, he may do it for himself, for his grandmother, for his country; but as we walk the path through the grand forest each of us will create our own unique chronicle. Collectively, our history grows with every step.
Yuu-tluth-aht First Nation member Tyson Touchie welcomes Koyczan on the sheltered shore of native owned-and-operated Wya Point Resort.
As the band’s economic development officer, Touchie is an instrumental cog in local politics, in addition to being a passionate surf instructor and youth basketball coach. His energy is gentle and he showcases a wide, disarming smile. Against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean coastline, the two trade tales as a vibrant sockeye salmon slowly cooks over an open beach fire. Meanwhile Touchie’s nephew, Jeff Charleson, bangs a traditional drum his father crafted, and sings ancient songs in Nuučaannuɫ, a native language. Before each song he announces what story it tells.
“People have lived here for thousands of years,” says Touchie. “The buildings are on top of an old village site. Beneath them are middens that can be dated down 5,000 to 10,000 years.”
“They said ‘we don’t want to see any structures from the beach,” recalls Touchie. “We don’t want you digging deep. We don’t want you taking down a lot of trees. And whatever you put there, the land must be able to take it back.”
Similar to the oldgrowth forests of Meares Island, the fauna at Wya Point and throughout Clayoquot Sound is resilient and unrelenting. The methodical creep of entropy and growth that push and pull in these woods is inherently slow, but the First Nation are well aware of its power to overcome. Drop by drop, creeks swell and the mossy undergrowth bulges with moisture. The capillary actions of the roots pull that same moisture back up and into wide branches. The omnipresent, leatheryleaved salal shrubs below are known to grow to five metres (16 feet) high and sometimes require sculpted tunnels to allow passage. Unmaintained, it will take mere years for a tunnel to fill in and vanish. It reminds us that there is beauty in both strength and suppleness. While the cedar and hemlock sentinels firmly stand guard, rooted in time, the rest of the rainforest builds and rebuilds and absorbs.
“It’s remarkable what trees can teach us.” says Koyczan, looking out over Wya Point’s towering oceanside forest. “They sway with the wind. They work with it. They’re not trying to stay rigid.”
It’s a lovely metaphor for our lives. If we build strong foundations, including room to move with the unknowns that lie ahead, we too can flourish. If we remain in a state of stasis, we risk the decay that comes with it. In life it is more rewarding to walk somewhere new than to stand in safety.
“It’s important for people to come back out into places like this. It rekindles that childlike wonder,” says Koyczan. “It opens up that world of possibility…you don’t have to be what you are currently. You can still be what you want to be.”