Discover BC through the eyes of its locals and visitors! This week, we’re featuring Vancouver Island-based Instagrammer, @sarahetoile. She’ll be sharing some of her favourite shots of Okwunalis and the surrounding area.
“Growing up I have heard endless stories of Okwunalis, from my loved ones and Margaret Craven’s novel I Heard The Owl Call My Name. Needless to say, I remember my first trip home and turning around this corner. It was everything I had envisioned and more.“
“People call the remote village of Kingcome ‘Gwa’yi,’ but that is the name of the river. The village name I’ve been taught, by my grandparents and elders, is Okwunalis. Although I didn’t grow up here, I still consider it home. Okwunalis is where my ump, g̱ag̱amp, and great-g̱ag̱amp once lived. This section of beach has belonged to my family for four or more generations. Further up the river is where my ancestors resided.”
“This is Xwap’tso. The English translation for Xwap’tso is Noisy Mountain. It is located in the remote village of Okwunalis. It is called Xwap’tso because of the frequent rock slides that echo throughout the valley. As such, this mountain is not safe to ascend. I have yet to hear a rock slide for myself, but I’ve been told it is quite powerful. You can tell who’s a visitor because we eagerly wait for a rock slide to happen and question every loud noise we hear.”
“All my life I have dreamed about this area and ʦa̱xwstala, but this was my first visit. So, when ḵ’wa̱’li took me up gwa’yi for the first time, it all seemed familiar. With my sense of familiarity, ḵ’wa̱’li laughed and yelled ‘I think she’s been here before!’ Once we turned left to the ʦa̱xwstala, this overwhelming emotion took over and I started crying. After all these years, I finally found this ʦa̱xwstala. They are at home, in remote Dzawada’enuxw territory, and much more beautiful in person.”
“An old big house still stands in the remote village of Okwunalis. Prior to this photo being taken, the dance floor was covered with overgrown plants, which you can still see on the ground. My ḵ’wa̱’li was upset with the state of the old big house, so he did some maintenance to feel better. Every time I’m in the big house, either this one or elsewhere, I feel this strong connection to my ancestors and loved ones. I am very thankful for everything they have done to create and keep our culture alive. “
“Two totem poles stand next to the old big house in Okwunalis. I was very familiar with this particular one, because my father did a drawing of it while in art school, and I have it hanging in my office. It has been many years since that drawing, and a seedling landed on the totem. The seedling grew into this beautiful tree, which gave our ancestor new life. Another chance to dance again.”
“Every trip I’ve taken home to Dzawada’enuxw territory has been by fishing boat—a gill netter to be exact—and I love it. My ump and g̱ag̱amp were fishermen, and they would share stories of their experiences. If it is nice weather, I will sit atop the cabin and try to connect these stories. Not only from my ump and g̱ag̱amp, but from our legends. For every piece of the territory has a story, a connection, and has been a part of our livelihood for thousands of years.”
Sarah Étoile is a First Nations Photographer, Storyteller, and Adventurer based on Vancouver Island. She takes pride in being both Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth. Sarah was raised with First Nations values; language, culture, and traditions. She holds these values closely and respectfully shares them through modern technology.
Gilakas’la. Nugwa’am Sarah. Gayuƛan lax Dzawada’enuxw. I’m a First Nations photographer based on Vancouver Island. This week I will be sharing photos from my home of Okwunalis and nearby areas, which reside in the remote Dzawada’enuxw territory. Her primary trades are photography, online branding and marketing, and tourism.Sarah’s interests are linguistics, cultural and language revitalization, and environmental stewardship.
In recent years, Sarah has been involved in Eco-Tourism. It started with exploring the West Coast and Mid-Vancouver Island taking photos. She then participated in an Aboriginal Eco-Tourism Program through Vancouver Island University and North Island College. In which, she graduated with a certificate in Adventure and Recreation Tourism.
A primary goal of Sarah’s is to incorporate First Nations values throughout her work. Whether that be respect for the environment or First Nations territories, cultures, and languages. Hišukʔišawaak — thegreaterconnection.com
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