Research pieces from around the Cowichan Valley

This article is from The Discourse Cowichan’s Curious in Cowichan Newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday. 

The Cowichan Tzinquaw Dancers opened the ceremonies at the Koksilah Music Festival last Friday at Providence Farm, near Duncan. The Friendship Dance was a highlight of the performance. Each dancer went out into the crowd and asked someone to come dance. One of the dancers picked me. We held hands and danced in a wide circle with the others. 

Then, the song leader asked everyone dancing to go out into the crowd and pick new partners. Pairs of dancers lined up facing each other and formed a tunnel for others to travel through. Children stood on tip-toes to make the tunnel as wide and high as they could manage. People laughed as they squeezed through.

Dancers make their way through a human tunnel during the Koksilah Music Festival near Duncan, B.C.

Dancers make their way through a human tunnel during the Koksilah Music Festival near Duncan, B.C. Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse

The dance was a good metaphor for the festival, which continued over the weekend. People representing different cultures, young and old, came together to share music, dancing and laughter. The theme of the festival this year, chosen by Quw’utsun (Cowichan) elders, was nuts’amaat. It’s a Hul’qumi’num word that means: One heart, one mind, we are all one.

I went to the Koksilah Music Festival to ask people what they’re curious about in the Cowichan Valley. Most people who stopped to chat had a question or something to say about local Indigenous Peoples and their relationships to their non-Indigenous neighbours. Things like: 

  • What does cultural revitalization look like? 
  • What does decolonization look like? 
  • I want everyone to know the effects of residential schools, that’s still happening. 
  • Removing the assumptions that we stopped practicing our culture. 

Everyone, it seemed, had reconciliation on the mind. I should have been less surprised. We were, after all, at a festival devoted to Indigenous resurgence, reconciliation and decolonization. 

So what does reconciliation in Cowichan look like? 

It’s a big question. Much bigger than I could even begin to tackle in this space. But near the end of the festival, I sat down with Rose Henry to hear a little of what she had to say. Rose is from the Tla’amin Nation and is a longtime resident of Victoria on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen people. She is an activist and educator. Most people call her Grandma Rose, she tells me.

Rose Henry says Cowichan is leading the way on bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together.

Rose Henry says Cowichan is leading the way on bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together. Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse

Rose tells me that reconciliation is just a fancier word for action. “This is a time that we can do action.” And it starts with events like this one, she adds.

“The seed for social change starts here at these gatherings,” Rose says. “And the Quw’utsun people seem to be the most receptive. They’re embracing that change, and they’re showing the world how we can work with non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities.”

It means something that the Quw’utsun people, who still suffer from missing loved ones, from poverty and from other ripple effects of colonialism, have stepped up to host this event on their territory, Rose tells me. 

The Koksilah Music Festival is awesome, she says. “This is people-run. This is what unity looks like.”

The festival is led by a collective of volunteers, both non-Indigenous and Indigenous, in consultation with Quw’utsun elders. Funds raised at this year’s event will be donated to the youth inclusion project at Hiiye’yu Lelum (House of Friendship) in Duncan and to Unist’ot’en Camp in Northern B.C. 

What are you curious about?

Curious in Cowichan

Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse

Here are some of the comments that festival-goers shared with me this weekend. What are you curious about in Cowichan? You can tell me here. In the meantime, share this article with your friends and be sure to sign up to the Curious In Cowichan newsletter. You’ll get stories like this in your inbox, every Tuesday.

This is my inaugural column for, and I am writing it in the homeland of the Quw’utsun peoples (Cowichan Tribes First Nation). I am grateful to Cody Wicks for approaching me to write periodic columns on issues affecting all beings who rely on a healthy Quw’utsun (Cowichan) Valley to survive and thrive. I plan to write about Quw’utsun Valley issues and solutions from an intersectional perspective (that is from a broad-based perspective where human rights, Indigenous rights, ecology, environmental and social justice all intersect and where each impacts the other). However much of what I will write about will likely be about Duncan because it is where I live (I don’t drive, which means I spend a lot of time working and living here and so I feel my ability to write about topics I plan to explore is directly related to what I am witnessing and experiencing in the world immediately around me).

I felt it important to write this initial piece on the heels of the latest release of the global report on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These reports have become an essential barometer on how well or how badly our civilization is doing in the era of the climate crisis. This report focused on climate change in relation to land use and food security. These topics are BIG matters globally and we face them here in the Valley on a day-to-day basis as the area continues to develop in the face of climate change impacts. We are very fortunate to live in a fertile region, where a sustainable food system is within reach. However, with successive droughts and increasing temperatures in the region, poverty and homelessness and addiction, we are feeling the pressures here and so all is not well.

Yet, I believe because we are bounded geographically by the valley, because we have such richness in the soil at our finger tips, because there is such a profoundly deep and powerful Indigenous presence with great possibilities for true reconciliation, and because there are so many people who truly care about the land and their fellow humans and other beings, we are well placed to tackle these issues locally and regionally with open hearts and minds.

I look forward to sharing more with you as we move together through this journey.