Kitasoo/Xai’xais Heritage Database: bringing wisdom and stories home

Kitasoo Xai/Xais Heritage Database illustration

Over the last two years an information-gathering project has taken place in Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory. As part of the Indigenous Law Project, community researchers unearthed over 2000 items of cultural and scientific significance to the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people, including historic photographs and records, recorded oral stories, interviews with knowledge holders, previous scientific reports and more. All this information has been assembled into something called the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Heritage Database.

Feathers and Feast-Fires is a collection of stories by the community for the community.”

This Database is a wealth of information about the culture and resources within Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory. It is already being used to direct resource management decisions, and is also the foundation for an important cultural project: the Kitasoo/Xai’xais storybook.

Heritage Database supports herring management

While working on the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Management Plan for Pacific Herring, decision makers were able to search within the Database for useful information. This search readily provided information on traditional herring harvesting sites and stewardship practices, as well as the impact of industrial fisheries and more. All this was accomplished without having to consult numerous binders, maps and hard drives stored in different locations.

Collectively, this material was synthesized and incorporated into the management plan. “The database is a tremendous wealth of information,” says CCIRA’s Science Coordinator, Alejandro Frid. “Thanks to it, the herring management plan has traditional laws as its foundation, with science providing supplementary guidance.” This foundation will help ensure herring management is informed by Kitasoo/Xai’xais values, and not just the interests of others.

The Database will be continually updated and its value for assisting decision-making will only increase over time. But this is only part of its significance. The Database is also a storehouse of stories.

A collection of stories by the community for the community

This winter there is something new on the bookshelves and tables in Klemtu. Every household has received a copy of a book entitled Feathers and Feast-Fires: Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Stories.

Salmon painting from Feathers and Feast-Fires.
Salmon painting from Feathers and Feast-Fires, by Klemtu artist Jeff Robinson.

Oral story telling has always been an important part of Kitasoo/Xai’xais culture, and this book of stories is not meant to replace that rich tradition. Instead, it is meant to support it by taking all the stories within the Heritage Database and putting them directly into the hands of all Kitasoo/Xai’xais people in the form of a book.

In the words of community researcher, Emma Wilson, “Feathers and Feast-Fires is a collection of stories by the community for the community.” Notably, it is not being sold to outsiders.

As the storybook took shape the community was asked for feedback on preliminary drafts to ensure the stories were being captured accurately. Local language teachers Roxeanne Robinson and Nora Robinson, and Sgüüx̱s transcriber Michelle Edgar contributed with spelling and translation of traditional words. Eight local artists contributed photographs, sketches or paintings to illustrate the book.

“Now we see people sitting down with the book and using it to help recount these stories,” says Emma. “It is a tool to initiate conversation between generations about Kitasoo/Xai’Xais history, cultural governance, and language.” Emma notes that people are particularly excited to read old stories by, or about, their grandparents or other elders who have passed on.

Still, Emma explains, the book is not a permanent or definitive collection of Kitasoo/Xai’xais stories. “We know that Feathers and Feast-Fires represents a fraction of stories that were once recounted, and some Kitasoo/Xai’xais stories have multiple versions. The stories in the book are not meant to be the authoritative versions. Rather they are part of the living legacy that is Kitasoo/Xai’xais culture.”

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