December 22, 2008

Defining Family

In traditional Sḵwx̱wú7mesh society, a family was a group of multiple nuclear families that through kinship create an extended family. The children of your uncles and aunties were your brothers and sister, your first cousins. Your parents first cousins were your uncles and aunties as well. The house of the family would typically be a home made out of large cedar beams holding up a slanted roof in a long shape, called a longhouse. Each quarter of this longhouse was the area of different sections of the family. The large family would then occupy a large longhouse home. The size of this could grow to huge portions with some longhouses holding up to 11 “families”, all apart of the same kinship. This was the basic formation of a family and it’s home.

In traditional Sḵwx̱wú7mesh culture, there is an automatic respect for those older then you. Brothers and sisters, even just a year older then you, you would respect. This social establishment extended to all those older.

For each household and family kinship, a single man would be more respected then others. The qualities of this man, held in esteem, placed him in the trust and admiration for he would be someone they follow his leadership. He was gifted with qualities in the traditions of his people, the essential value of generosity, and above else, carried his family in high esteem. Not a boss above all, but a man holding his family up. This was a siyam.

Raised in close quarters, this family was a tight extraction of the over-all society. During the warmer seasons, this family would travel as a group to resource gathering sites or be invited to other village festivities. Leading to winter months, the family with collaborate and work towards building enough resources to use during the colder winter months.

Things have definitely changed.

In modern Squamish reserves, a family sometimes lives in a big square house, sometimes with multiple branches, sometimes not. As the children grow older, they move out and start there own homes, and their children start there homes, eventually leading to smaller nuclear family occupied homes. Often these houses can sometimes be across larger distances, and not close to each other. As a result, these branches of the family rarely see each other.

For each family, there is rarely a single man the family respects enough to follow and guide. The old tradition of “grooming”, a custom that was often hereditary, ceased to happen and thus produced less and less strong male leaders to be a host, an organizer, a guide, for his family. Instead influences in foreign structures produces chairmen, bosses, controllers. The halting of that tradition also produced no strong males at all.

Separated from each other, the over-all family doesn’t see or interact with each other that often. Some family members intuitively know each other, but most of the cousins only kind of know each other. Eventually, some whole family branches don’t even know the other exists. During some yearly events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Birthdays, the family may get together. In many cases, different people in different branches are only acquainted with each others. No deep friendship or understanding. No common interests.

The two above definitions don’t truly exists. Some families may have some of the first, and some of the second, in different levels. There is not “traditional Skwxwu7mesh family” in modern times, and there is not fully modern family like the above defition (at least I hope not, otherwise I don’t really consider them Skwxwu7mesh). Colonization drastic change of the family make-up of the old family ways, breaking the connections, differs from one family to another. Primarily the connection to each other from cousin to cousin, from one branch to another, is the largest difference. I say colonization both in the development of modern homes and travel, but also colonization in the systemic changes to our culture into an assimilated Euro-Canadian one.

Decolonization is the task of creating ways to grow in the direction of something resembling our ancestors.

I bring up family because, although I don’t celebrate the Roman Holiday, the feelings of family and togetherness has hit me. Perhaps it’s the cold and almost uninhabited streets that make me think people are at home, perhaps with their family. This reflection on family leads me to inquiry both about the make-up of my family, about my definition of family, and what my vision of a decolonized future could look like for family.

I come from one prominent family within my community with a history of either political involvement through my uncle and grandfather being a band councilor, along with my great grandfather being a prominent leader in his time, or through members of my family being included in different parts of the community. I come from one of the largest families for my people, thus making it prominent, but also “characters” from the family that also who are remembered and respected for their commendable forthright attitude. I could elaborate further for I come from many other families, but these are my two most immediate heritage angles. I come from the Rivers and the Baker family, and I’m damn proud of it.

It’s my firmest belief that I’m not a human on a spiritual journey, but a spirit on a human journey. That before this life, I had a choice of the environment I would be taking on, but not knowing what was intended for me to be here. My connection to the guide who knows what my intention for being here shows the beauty in me, and the beauty in it’s creation. I choose this family, and I’m so grateful for everything I have from this family.

I also picked up traits from different sides of my family. I think I received my straightforward attitude from my mothers side as so many on this side going back generations were like this. I feel that I attained my humility and grace from my fathers side for the achievements and wisdom these achievements that were brought with, are commendable and memorable. I picked up my sick dry dirty humor from my northern bloodline. I found my inspiration for political valor for service of the better good from my homegrown ties. I have a lot to be grateful, especially for who I am what has shaped me.

I guess to define family, it stems from the values held most important. Some individuals hold very few values, but over the years I’ve understood there are some things I believe in that I hold myself to. Integrity is living to our highest values, which makes it my most important value. Openness is something I wish for because I believe in the sharing of knowledge and understanding. I think that stems from my personality trait to try to understand everything. The righteousness to stand up and not be seated is something I hold myself to. Seated in ignorance, or perhaps apprehension of disturbing things, but the choice to not do something when injustice continues is my value. I think my loyalty to be there, in need or desire, again comes back for it’s something I wish for, and thus believe in others. These are probably my main values.

Ha! I’m starting to see a pattern between what my values are and what I search for myself in the world. Ironic eh? Haha.

A few weeks ago when learning some new vocabulary from my language, I started finding our words for things like “honor”, “respect”, and “teaching”. One word that comes to mind is snewiyalh, a word that means to pass on the teachings to another people. Kind of like advice. It’s used primarily in the upbringing of young children around puberty That snewiyalh is taking the guidance you received either through other people or through the experience of life itself and sharing that with another. It strikes me now in speaking about values that snewiyalh is actually a value, yet the English language has nothing to really compare it too. “Advice”, “learning”, “teaching”, don’t fit when looking deeper. Ha! Another insight. But you can see from the inquiry into this single word the possibilities of other important words in my language. I know a few words that are values. How many English words for values do you know? This list has 375. I only know 3 in my language! Now that is an area to decolonize in my life.

Now I see the types of values including ethical/moral values, doctrinal/ideological (political, religious) values, social values, and aesthetic values, come from both the internal request of the world to the self, and from the external forces that influence us as we grow. So with a Western world influencing us more and more, our requests or search from the world differs quite differently from our ancestors because of the environment they lived there lives.

I also see that how we define family stems from the values we hold to, and if our values are determined by those internal and external ways, and decolonize those internal and external ways, my definition of family would differ so much from everyone else. It’s also revealing to me now that this is also why in the assimilation to a more individual nature, different members of the family will have different definitions of family.

Over this time of slumber and reflection in winter months, I implore you all to search for what your values on family are, and to see what you want in creating ways to grow in the direction of your dreams. What is it you can create, promote, or allow to happen in your life to move towards a place of those values. What kind of family do you want and how can you create that, especially if you understand what your values are.

Now I’m amazed because when I first wrote this blog post, I didn’t realize I would learn something through this personal inquiry. I sure learned something. I also now have a clearer path into my vision of decolonization. I’ll be looking to create ways to grow in the direction of something resembling my ancestors, and what their values might of been.


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