Nawalakw: Reclaiming Connection

Words By: Emily Martin

“Every day when you are out on the land you come home and there’s an aura about you. You are radiating positive energy. We need to get as many people out there to experience this as possible, because it’s so healing.”

K’odi Nelson has always found nature to be a place of great healing. A place to find Outer Peace. He’s witnessed these healing powers first hand, seen nature transform individuals.

As a member of the Kwakwaka̱’wa̱kw peoples of BC’s central coast, K’odi feels a responsibility to protect the land. For most First Nations individuals it’s not a choice. “We have to be stewards of the land and educate the outside world on how important it is we protect it. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

He hopes that Nawalakw, a multi-phase project that will create presence and environmental stewardship in the Kwakwaka̱’wa̱kw traditional territory, will provide this platform for years and years to come.

The vision for Nawalakw began in 2019 when K’odi witnessed helicopter logging in a sacred area of origin for his ancestors. He was upset by the destruction and believed creating a permanent structure would ensure the Kwakwaka̱’wa̱kw peoples would have presence and ongoing stewardship of the land. The facility could be used to reconnect the Kwakwaka̱’wa̱kw people to their origins, culture and language. And their land. Things which are all deeply interconnected for First Nations communities.

For K’odi, Hada is the most beautiful place he’s ever been. Not just because of the physical geography, but for all it represents for him and his people. “I believe this is why indigenous people are land and water protectors, because we have multi-layered history that connects us. It’s not just another river or valley. We have stories there that go back generations and generations.”

K’odi believes that bringing Kwakwaka̱’wa̱kw individuals back to their land, after decades of forced extraction, will be very healing. Nawalakw aims to facilitate this healing while providing an ongoing source of reliable employment for the community, instilling pride in individuals and protecting the fragile ecosystem of the Hada River estuary.

Phase one, a year-round culture camp, will provide cultural programming and language revitalization for the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people. Phase two is a healing village and ecotourism destination, designed to provide sustainable income for the culture camp by welcoming individuals from around the world to visit during the summer months. Phase three will be an interpretive centre, retail space, gallery to showcase local artists, and housing.

After witnessing Fogo Island Inn, a sustainable venture on Canada’s east coast, K’odi realised that eco-tourism could serve a dual purpose of increasing education and awareness of First Nations’ practices while also contributing funds to the culture camp.

Image by McLennan Design

As phase one is just weeks from completion, K’odi and the Nawalakw team are feeling extremely proud of all they have achieved so far. Currently, there are only around seventy-five individuals, mainly elders, who speak the kwak̓wala language fluently. K’odi has ambitious plans to change this.

In the culture camp, which can accommodate 24 students, their teachers and chaperones, five language apprentices will teach daily lessons using the kwak̓wala language. Under the guidance of the elders, the aim is that this immersion will enable the apprentices to become fluent. Then more apprentices will join in year two, and the growth will continue.

As a former elementary school teacher, K’odi is aware of the transformative power of learning in nature. Taking his students into their traditional territories was an incredible, eye-opening experience for him.

“The kids were retaining more in five days than I could do in a month of classroom teaching. This made me pause and think wow, there’s something powerful about teaching in the land.”

Living and thriving in harmony with nature has always been deeply rooted in First Nations’ teachings and traditions. But, the destruction of traditional practices has disrupted these connections and as K’odi says: “when we, as people, lose our connection to the land it’s easier to not care about it.”

Nawalakw represents an opportunity to heal this wound. It provides a platform for the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people to tell their stories, gain allies and educate other cultures on the First Nations’ experience.

“The goal is not to evoke guilt, but to deepen understanding of our perspective. We have been misunderstood and misrepresented for too long.”

K’odi believes the time is right for healing to occur, for First Nations people, for Canada and the world. “Individuals need to understand our not-so-good history. From there we want to move forward together in a respectful and meaningful way. As one.”

With First Nations communities around the globe looking to Nawalakw as a sustainable model that can be replicated, the opportunity exists for a worldwide healing. A coming together in recognition and understanding of the past and agreeing to move forward together into a brighter, more collaborative future.

An opportunity to find a collective Outer Peace.