Ancient Genesis, New Future

At Nawalakw, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, K’odi Nelson is building a future.

Nawalakw means supernatural in Kwak’wala, the language that has been spoken in my homelands for thousands of years. K’odi is a Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary Chief, one of many responsible for the spiritual leadership of his community. K’odi’s work reveals an Indigenous ancestral heritage while also building a vision for the future —an ambitious social venture and sustainable Indigenous enterprise that is a catalyst for healing and connection led by a strong sentiment of “returning to the land.”

The Nawalakw Lodge and Healing Village is being built in the Hada River estuary of Bond Sound, deep in this homeland in an inlet lined by waterfalls and the passage of orcas and dolphins. It will generate profit through the summer as an eco-tourism lodge, but it will also be a place where elders can come to rest, and where traditional healing programs and language and culture training can be shared among the great tribes of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations.

K’odi wants to see his Kwakwaka’wakw culture thrive. Our culture is deeply connected to community, to oneness with nature, to a genesis in the landscape.

Everywhere I go, Survivors are expressing the desire to go back to the land. It is a core desire of not only Survivors but also to see their children and grandchildren go back to the land as well.

When K’odi invited me, and all of our people, to return to our homeland to see what he had built a couple of weeks ago, it was a perfect day.

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I had arrived early, as we had expected the ceremonies to begin at 930 in the morning. But even at noon, the boats were still arriving in their dozens. Every time I looked back to the bay, I would spot another three or four people in one boat, ten in another, pulling up to the newly-constructed dock. People were rambling up to Nawalakw Lodge and when we finally counted, there were over 400 of us present.

We all sat, stood, danced, and sang together, and suddenly we were in that place where the curtain, the veil to the supernatural, drops. We felt called together in that longing, that beautiful knowing of our ancestral homeland. It was so powerful.

Hidden behind another curtain, as well, was a new totem pole. When all was revealed, and our history in this place was both sadness and happiness, just waiting for the next second to unfold. It was a spiritual experience, and the symbolism of it was steeped in deep hope with a recognition of the promise of the future and what it may hold for us.

In the past, our ancestral closeness was not just spiritual but was also bound by the reciprocity economy of the Potlatch, something that was lost when the Canadian government outlawed the practice and the community’s ceremonial tools and totem poles were carried off by collectors to New York and London. K’odi’s ancestry bids him to provide for what his parents and grandparents need. Nawalakw is a series of residences overlooking the estuary so that peoples of this land can feel immersed in their culture and build a new community in which they can feel free to be themselves.

By the end of the day, the wharf was crowded with people, hugging K’odi, hugging each other, and saying goodbye.

The little boats puttered off, one by one, bringing our hope back home.