Dave & I were honoured to be invited to attend a Tsawout ‘cedar burning ceremony for the ancestors.’ It took place on the shore facing the water. Built on the beach was a table-like structure, completely made of cedar. Kindling had been piled underneath with cedar planks over top.
The Tsawout First Nation women had been cooking for hours, serving up all the traditional foods…salmon, prawns, urchins, crab, berries, peaches and plums for dessert. The overflowing plates were carefully placed on blankets on the ground, along with bowls of soup and cups of tea.
The two ‘burners,’ special people who inherit the title and have been trained from a young age, then called the ancestors. They took the plates, bowls and cups, one at a time, handed to them by the women of the band, and offered them up to the ancestors before gently setting them down on the cedar planks. Extra baskets of food were placed beside the plates as well, to insure that the ancestors do not go hungry. Then the fire was lit and the table along with all the food was consumed in flames, the smoke rising to the sky. Blankets and towels were also offered and gently laid on the flames.
The burner was in contact with and received messages from the ancestors throughout the burning ceremony and relayed that wisdom to the elders of the band.
We sat on logs on the beach witnessing this very old and sacred ceremony, surrounded by people from the Tsawout community and feeling privileged to be there.
Afterwards, when the fire had died down, we all shared a meal. One of the elders spoke, expressing his concern at the lack of people, especially young people at the ceremony. He fears that the old ways will be forgotten, along with all the wisdom of the ancestors and the elders.
A good thing for all of us to think about, no matter our ancestry.
Here’s a note from Gwen Underwood, of the Tsawout First Nation:
I would like to sincerely thank Dave & Ina Howe for donating the dry cedar for our community burning for the ancestors. This contribution was gratefully acknowledged by our elders and community. One of the elders said it is very hard to get such good dry cedar for this important work. Everyone played a part by helping prepare baskets of food, blankets and towels for our ancestors. This burning was specifically for our ancestors in the gulf islands who were disturbed by development or erosion to the burial sites. It was very important for us to follow up on this as our late elder Ray Sam acknowledged that we needed to include them when we burn food in our community. Overall the message that came forward was that the ancestors appreciated the care and concern that was brought to them in the serving of seafood, berries, and tea, and ceremonial items. The burners said that this doesn’t have to be done every year, every two years is good.HISWKE SIAM Gwen
Tsawout First Nation Mission Statement
Our vision is the empowerment of our people, spiritually, intellectually, physically and emotionally, by providing through mutual understanding a safe, open and fair environment for our community. Appreciating our youth and valuing our elders through traditional teachings and cultural practices. Along this journey, we will treat each other with respect, empathy, strength, pride and equality.
To learn more about the Tsawout First Nation and their beliefs go to their page