One of the things that has been clear to me since I began, 20 years ago, working on the Cowichan Reserve, is that Cowichan culture has nothing to do with me. I’m a second and third generation Norwegian-Ukranian Canadian with light (and greying) hair and I’m only red when I suffer sun burn.
It’s not that I’m uninterested in Cowichan culture; rather the opposite. I’ve been taught a great deal by my students, colleagues, friends, and elders. But because from here it looks like Cowichan culture and First Nations culture generally is so solidly defined by tradition, values, practice, and belief, and because after almost half a century I continue to wonder just who I am in a cultural sense, I’m very aware that I am not a First Nations person.
I teach in a small building on Cowichan Reserve land. Although we are a part of a medium size Canadian university, the campus at which I work is the university equivalent of a one room school house. We may be small, but under our roof are hundreds of courses: from horticulture to bartending, to high-school equivalency, to film studies, and advanced university courses in psychology and anthropology.
This year, we have convinced Florence James, who is also one of our elders-in-residence, to offer a course in Hul'qumi'num language and on impulse I signed up for it. I bought the textbook yesterday and now, frankly, I’m just a little bit terrified.