NIȽ TU,O Staff Learn to Use Groundbreaking Coast Salish Laws Publications

During a two-day on-site training, NIȽ TU,O staff learned about how to implement Coast Salish laws into their work through the use of a Toolkit and Casebook. 

The recent release of the Toolkit and Activity Books 1 and 2 on Coast Salish Laws Relating To Child and Caregiver Nurturance & Safety (the materials) after five years of development was a special moment in NIȽ TU,O history. Now, NIȽ TU,O celebrates the completion of an inspiring two-day, on-site workshop during which NIȽ TU,O staff learned how to best implement the ideas and stories from the materials. 

The Toolkit describes the materials as “the first step to help people think about what Coast Salish legal traditions have to say about child and caregiver nurturance and safety.” They “invite people to explore Coast Salish law and critical legal issues relating to children and caregivers through the stories specific to seven Northern Straits Coast Salish Nations: W̱SÁNEĆ (Tsawout, Tseycum, Pauquachin and Tsartlip), lək̓wəŋən (Songhees, Esquimalt), SĆIȺNEW (Beecher Bay Klallam), and T’Sou-ke.”

Elders Kathy and Doug LaFortune opened day one of the workshop. After Kathy gave a blessing, Doug shared his personal experience as a child in foster care. Doug then spoke of the challenges faced by family support workers and social workers, and emphasized that in those difficult moments, “reaction rather than a response based on rules is needed,” and “it’s necessary to make a judgment call: from gut and heart.” 

The Toolkit and Abridged Casebook will facilitate exactly the kind of judgment calls Doug discussed. Implementing the materials in NIȽ TU,O’s work furthers the decolonization of child and caregiver nurturance and safety by centering Coach Salish methodologies and law. Pursuant to the Toolkit, the project “weaves together the lived experiences of Coast Salish children and families impacted by the child welfare system, this history of colonial violence within the Coast Salish world, and Coast Salish understandings of child and caregiver nurturance and safety through its stories and law.”

Doug described the materials as world-class, stating, “the kits are stunning, and when you look, you can see why it took four years” to make them.

In addition to its stunning illustrations, the casebook is full of stories from the Nations served by NIȽTU,O Child and Family Services Society, including W̱SÁNEĆ (Tsawout, Tseycum, BOḰEĆEN (Pauquachin), and Tsartlip), lək̓wəŋən (Songhees), SC’IȺNEW (Beecher Bay), and Tsou-ke. The stories in the casebook are presented in English and are accompanied by a sample legal analysis of each story. The legal analyses demonstrate how the stories may be applied in the context of child and caregiver nurturance and safety. 

During day two of the training, the participants formed breakout groups to read the stories aloud. After reading the stories, they discussed the many layers of interpretation that can arise from each story, including the meaning of individual words, the impact of language choice and interpretation on the stories’ meaning, what the Elder’s understanding of the meaning would be, and how each participant was originally taught the story. 

Participants also discussed the benefits of working with youth through stories rather than rigid rules, explaining that stories create an opportunity for discussion that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and that stories are easier for youth to remember.

One participant spoke to the spaciousness created by the stories, sharing, “what we learn about being human is more human than what the colonial systems show us.” Another shared their enthusiasm for this new way to center Coast Salish law, stating, “why we’ve survived for so long is because we are responsive because we have sophisticated caregiving systems in place.” 

NIȽTU,O is delighted that its staff can now implement the Toolkit and Casebook in their work, and looks forward to continued efforts to center Coast Salish law to promote healing in Coast Salish communities. As one participant shared during the workshop, “this is decolonizing our work. It is time to turn to our culture and the medicines to help with the work because . . . the old ways are starting to get weak and not carrying us the way they used to.” “It’s time to look at our own culture.”

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