Grounded in our teachings

“What I find so impactful about this work is that as we undertake the difficult task of revitalizing or reviving our Snuw’uy’ulh, we are thinking about how our traditional culture and teachings can be applied to a modern-day piece of Law that applies to our communities, and our modern day context”

– Sarah Morales

Cowichan Tribes has always believed that self-governance is an inherent right of our people.

Our oral history reflects the fact that our children have always been at the centre of our Cowichan community. Caring for our children is an essential part of who we are, and we believe that families must take care of families.

Our Law has been shaped by our people and a commitment hear their voices, learn about their hopes and lived experiences, respect our traditional teachings, and acknowledge concerns to create a Law that will help young people reach their full potential and heal families during times of crisis.

In 2012, the initial Cowichan Tribes Nation-Based Child and Family Wellness Legislation Project (led by Lalum’utul’ Smun’een) hosted extensive community consultation sessions and meetings to keep everyone appraised of the work and to seek input. These sessions included presentations to Cowichan Tribes, Chief & Council and Cowichan Tribes department staff, community focus groups, family visits, Elders’ luncheons, community BBQs, and community forums.  They also presented to students, staff and off-reserve members at Vancouver Island University, Hiiye’ yu Lelum Friendship Centre and M’akola Housing.

During these initial engagement sessions, the community identified four main themes – Culture, Family, Teachings and Governance – and shared traditional teachings to guide this important work.

Four main themes

#1 | Family

“Everyone in the family has a role and responsibility. All children have a purpose. Grandparents watched grandchildren and groomed them based on their strengths. Aunties, uncles…everyone has a role.”

A core belief of the Cowichan Tribes community is that the “Family is the Heart of Life.” Families take care of family, and families are built on the strength of every person in the family. Everyone has a role and responsibility. We are committed to creating a law that aligns with the needs and values of the Cowichan community and reflects this core belief.

#2 | Culture

“Our culture makes us strong. It identifies who we are.”

Cowichan children must know who they are and where they come from. Cowichan law will recognize the importance of involving Elders, as well as a child’s entire family (not just parents) in decisions affecting a child’s care and well-being. The law will also emphasize the importance of healing entire families as well as the child.

#3 | Teachings

“Teachings are a life-long, everyday practice. Teachings are lost in the English translation.”

Cowichan people believe that the current laws do not reflect their traditional teachings and beliefs. Our new child and family law must reflect our traditional teachings.

#4 | Governance

“Elders were our social workers and decision-makers regarding our families. Hereditary chiefs would come together to make decision about community.”

Elders play a critical role in the Cowichan community. They possess extensive knowledge, wisdom and lived experience and we should seek their counsel when making decisions regarding the well-being of children and their families.

Following the establishment of the Cowichan Tribes Child and Family Wellness Project in 2021, community members and Elders have actively shaped the development of this legislation by taking part in working groups, informative dinners, and various other community engagement events.

The final Law is based on lum-stam’sh (prevention) and to be interpreted and administered in accordance with our Snuw’uy’ulh (teachings), including the following guiding Principles which apply to all Child and Family Services matters.

 Snuw’uy’ulhtst tu Quw’utsun Mustimuhw u’ tu Shhw’a’luqwa’a’ i’ Smun’eem”

Guiding Principles

Shtun’ni’iw’s (where you originate from)

Cowichan Tribes identity and cultural continuity is essential to the well-being of a Smun’eem, a Cowichan Tribes Family, and the Cowichan Tribes community. A Smun’eem has the right to know who they are, and their best interests are upheld when they reside with members of their family and in their traditional territory.

Ts’i‘ts’uqwitul (ensuring our familial relationships are strong and respectful)

Cowichan Tribes Families extend beyond the immediate Family to the Smun’eem sulsi’lu (grandparents]) thunu shhwum’nikw (aunts), tthunu shhwum’nikw (uncles), ’uqw’i’tul (cousins) and other tslhnuts’amat (family members) who have a close relationship with the Smun’eem;

Mukw’ tu shhw’a’luqw’a’ ‘o’ tth’ele’s tu shhwuli (family is the heart of life)

Snuw’uy’ulh teaches that Family is the heart of life, and that it is the responsibility of every Cowichan Tribes community member to ensure the safety and well-being of a Smun’eem.

Tl’i’ tul tst (love)

Love and compassion are important foundations in Family and community relationships, with the best interests of a Smun’eem upheld whena  Smun’eem feels that they and their Family members are treated with love and compassion.

Si’emstuhw (respect)

Every person is important to the health and well-being of our community, and as such, every person deserves to be treated with respect. Respect is more than just families, but all things, including the Creator. Respect also helps us to live a good life and helps us to follow our teachings in the ways we learn, teach, work, and interact with others. 

Ts’i’ts’uwatul’i (helping one another)

What we have is not as important as what we share with our Family, and how we selflessly reach out to help other Families within our community, this is evidenced by our ceremonies which are a means of being generous, of celebrating and helping our relations, and of creating connections with others.

Thu’it stuhw tu shqwalawun (trust/focused in your thoughts and mind)

Smun’eem and their Family members must be able to exercise their rights under this Law, including the right to have their views and preferences considered in decisions that affect them, and they must be able to do so without discrimination, including discrimination based on sex or gender identity or expression.

Hwi-ulasmutul’l (looking after one another)

Teachings about the importance of protection are implicit in our Snuw’uy’ulh. Our stories and customary practices teach the importance of protecting all our relations as a way of honouring and showing respect to all our relations.

Nuts’a’maat shqwaluwun (working together with one mind, one heart, one spirit)

Our Snuw’uy’ulh teaches us that working together to make a decision is just as important as the decision itself. A process of collaboration helps to build sustainable outcomes and sustainable relationships.

Some of the Quw’utsun Snuw’uy’ulh (Teachings) are still in the process of being translated into Hul’q’umi’num.