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Seeking Consent in a Nuu-chah-nulth Way with the Elder Women in my Life

Nuu-chah-nulth and other Coastal peoples are firmly rooted in what we call in English consent and negotiation. This way or approach to each other and the land is much more deeply connected to each other and how we have survived and remained who we are during this brief period in our history- what we refer to as colonization today.

For example – and some of you may be able to relate here; when I go home and spend time with my older aunties or grandmothers we inevitably end up surrounded by food which is the foundation of great conversations, debates and discussions. When I am with them I notice that the older folks do what I fondly call the “West Coast hinting” system. they will bring up some topic or some issue within family or community or world happenings in what I would consider to be a very thoughtful and respectful manner. They will say “Your uncle seems to be a bit tired these days….”

Then there is a pause while they wait for us younger folks to decide whether we are able to take up that conversation.

I value and appreciate this moment very much because it gives me an opportunity to consent or not consent to the conversation. It doesn’t look like “consenting” or not “consenting” to everyone; but in our way as Coastal peoples, we have an ancient understanding of this moment.

The older folks, usually women are waiting for me to show interest or enthusiasm for the conversation.

This pause and this moment of checking in about interest is complicated. It’s about, in part, ability, dignity, respect, willingness, and social responsibility.

I love my grandmother’s and aunties so much for showing me this way. I want to keep watching for and be open to other ways that people may be living consent.

Humming Bird, West Coast Stylized

Student drawing of a hummingbird

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