Guest blog by PPP intern Kiana Swift
I am half Tongan. I take immense pride in the values of my people. As a child, my mother taught my sister and I to dance in Tongan culture and immersed us in the customs of the Polynesian people. These lessons gave us a deep understanding of how to respect one’s elders and the importance of family. Through these experiences, I am able to reflect on myself and feel part of a greater purpose.
This summer I had the opportunity to begin working for the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership as a cultural liaison and media assistant. Pacific Peoples’ Partnership deeply believes in the power and value of bringing Indigenous peoples of the North Pacific into community with South Pacific Islanders. From stories told along the Coast of pan-Pacific relationships to similar patterns in culture and protocol across the ocean, we see much that suggests a connection between these distinct peoples.
But what do people and communities today have to say about this relationship? As a summer student with Pacific Peoples’ Partnership, I sat down to learn more.
It was exciting for me to discover how Indigenous peoples of Canada pass on the stories of their ancestors through song and dance, much like our own people. Indigenous peoples have an embracing and appreciative belief toward the land on which they live, grow and learn – as do South Pacific Islanders.
On Vancouver Island, we have many individuals with deep ties to both territories. I sat down with two of these individuals, Mua Va’a and Tina Savea, to discuss the possible relationships between the South Pacific Island community and local Indigenous communities.
PPP’s President Muavae Va’a was born and raised in Samoa. He immigrated to Canada where he met his wife Marie, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation. Tina Savea is Saulteaux Cree from the Keeseekoose community in Saskatchewan. She is married to Niu Savea, a Pacific Islander from Samoa. Both provided insightful reflections and had similar views regarding the possibilities between the two communities.
The first connection made by Mua had to do with each community’s relationship to the sea. “When we talk about the connections, we look to the sea,” he said. “The Pacific Islanders and here [Indigenous peoples of Canada] have respect and protocol for the land and waters.” The Pacific Ocean has provided beyond measure to our ancestors – and this is sacred in both territories.
Customs around valuing and embracing our elders is a big part of both peoples’ priorities, and both Tina and Mua agreed on this shared value. “The way we treat elders is very similar… they are very highly valued in our cultures,” said Tina. “We take care of them, serve them, and they are known to be the biggest people that we learn from.” Elders play an essential role in societies like ours – they carry knowledge, and it is through them that we discover the wonderful history of our people.
As a Tongan living in T’Sou-ke territory, I live away from my home territory. Likewise, both Tina and Mua resonate with a faraway territory. I posed a question to each of them about this dynamic.
“In being so far away from where our creation stories are rooted, where do we look for guidance while living in a different territory?”
Tina explained: “Even though we are from different places, we are still able to build bridges and connect. In Polynesian communities there is an automatic acceptance… they adopt you in, and don’t look at you as an outsider.”
By learning about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada, I am reminded of home. These two cultures have had diverging histories in their experience of colonialism and globalization, which has created vast differences in communities today. For example, Pacific Islanders have always been able to learn about and take pride in their culture – whereas Indigenous peoples of Canada have been forcibly prevented from learning and practicing the teachings of their elders.
But by building relationships between the two, we are creating opportunities for cultural growth in the face of Western pressures.
“We need to make ourselves available and read how people live here…” Mua said, “I really hope as islanders we will come to that place and be able to support the people locally.”
“Sometimes the world isn’t open to us,” said Tina. “By being connected with each other, we can open up new places.” This posed an enlightening concept especially to me as a youth looking to travel the world. By seeking to understand and value another’s culture, I’m able to be reminded of my roots and to create opportunities to further my life experiences.
Despite the little amount of research done on links between the two cultures, there is a significant association. A question suggested would be: how do we further develop the relationship?
Tina explained, “ Actually seeing value in other cultures…sometimes we focus on ourselves but being able to see value in other cultures will able us to connect. Valuing someone as friend and make yourself aware of their culture. Look at the value of each other and then there can be a connection because if we think it has to be something huge it doesn’t have to be.”
This is an informative statement because when thinking of bridging a gap between two peoples, it can seem like an intimidating feat. However, as Tina stated, it can be as simple as letting someone into your life and having a willingness to understand their culture.
I think those of us who are blessed to be able to connect with our personal history and still practice those activities are always willing to share their knowledge. I say that because as being half Tongan I love informing people of my culture and how grateful I am to be a part of that. By spreading knowledge about my culture, I’m able to feel closer to my heritage.
The developing relationship between South Pacific Islanders and Indigenous people of Canada is a new community to look forward to. The positive outcomes this connection can achieve are beneficial not only to these two diverse groups but also to individuals in surrounding communities. The awareness of culture, traditional practices and humble attitudes of these groups enable respect the land, our elders, and a continued embrace of the customs of our ancestors.