Counterpoint: Learning from first nations neighbours

The amazing Hɛhɛwšɩn (The Way Forward) Reconciliation Canoe Journey Project at Willingdon Beach wrapped up on Saturday with the launch of a beautiful, hand-carved red cedar canoe into wind-swept waters.

The vast majority of the close to 250 in attendance were not first nations, which reflects one of the difficulties of reconciliation.

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For first nations people, it means recalling terrible racism and residential school abuses of the past without seeing anyone ever held accountable.

For white people, there is no such suffering. For us it is easy.

Don’t get me wrong, the project was fabulous and the growing connection between the Powell River community and Tla’amin Nation is exciting, as long as reconciliation leads to solidarity in achieving future prosperity and social justice for aboriginal people.

White society has a huge amount to learn from first nations people and if we act quickly enough on that learning it may not be too late to save the planet from our European arrogance. One area that holds so much promise in this learning process is the reconnection with nature, which is so critical to reversing climate change and environmental destruction.

What first nations cultures have always known is just how much humans are a part of the natural world. Ironically, just as we are recognizing what we have done to nature, science is now proving first nations right.

While people have always appreciated nature; we now know just being in nature has tremendous healing powers. According to reports in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, people can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety with short periods of time in forests or other wild greenspaces. Benefits are far-reaching and especially important to young and low-income people.

Communing with nature in order to heal even has a formal name: ecotherapy. In addition to mental-health benefits, time spent in a forest measurably lowers cortisol rates, heart rates and blood pressure, and enhances the immune system. Children with attention-deficit disorder experience a significant reduction in symptoms from a variety of activities if they are done in a natural setting.

It is not about exercise. Quietly, slowly and consciously walking while taking in the smells, sounds, colours, shapes and atmosphere of the woods is what provides mental-health benefits.

And it’s not just the health benefits. First nations’ cultures have long recognized and respected the intelligence (and spirits) of animals and plants. Western science once guffawed at such notions.

But now we know plants recognize themselves, communicate with each other, warn each other of imminent threats and even feed their young. When being attacked by caterpillars the wild tobacco plant produces a sugary treat that, when eaten, causes the caterpillar to give off a strong odour, which attracts small lizards that eat the caterpillars.

Huge fungal networks help mature Douglas fir trees transport excess carbon to their own offspring. Even more amazing, University of BC forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard discovered that while paper-birch trees and Douglas firs compete for resources, they also assist each other when one is in need of nutrients and the other has an excess, which is a cool analogy for reconciliation and solidarity.

Murray Dobbin is a Powell River freelance writer and social commentator.

Copyright © 2017 Powell River Peak

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