"If we want to move forward together we have to both acknowledge where we come from," says Jared Qwustenuxun Williams. Photo credit: Barry Hetschko
Cowichan Valley

Why we want Jared Qwustenuxun Williams to write for The Discourse Cowichan

The past few weeks have made it clear why we need strong Indigenous voices in Canadian media. You can help.

Canadian news media has done a terrible job including the perspectives of Indigenous people. The Discourse is committed to doing better. We know that that means going beyond reporting on First Nations issues, by reporting with First Nations people. 

At this particular moment in time, as the Wet’suwet’en conflict continues to inspire demonstrations across the country and Indigenous communities are experiencing racist backlash, it feels particularly important to do a better job learning from each other. 

This is why I want to bring strong Indigenous voices into the community we’ve built through The Discourse Cowichan. I’ve heard from readers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that they want more stories about local First Nations history and culture. Many have told me that they are eager to learn and build bridges, but are unsure where to start. 

In response, I reached out to Jared Qwustenuxun Williams to write Tuesday’s Curious in Cowichan newsletter, where he will answer a reader’s question about why First Nations and non-First Nations communities in Cowichan feel socially separate.

Jared Qwustenuxun Williams speaks at the WildWings Nature & Arts Festival gala in 2019. Photo credit: Barry Hetschko

We want this newsletter to be just the first of many that Qwustenuxun writes to build bridges between the communities of the Cowichan Valley. As with everything we do at The Discourse Cowichan, our community makes our work possible. And so, I’m hoping you’ll help by making a one-time contribution so we can hire Qwustenuxun on an ongoing basis to respond to your questions and curiosities about Indigenous issues here in Cowichan.

Let me tell you more about Qwustenuxun. (Here’s a pronunciation guide.) He wears a lot of hats. He’s a father and husband. He runs the Elders Kitchen at Cowichan Tribes. He’s a chef who is dedicated to learning and sharing Coast Salish cooking techniques. He manages Medieval Chaos, a live action role playing game set at the fantasy village of Dagger Deep, near Cowichan Bay. He’s a student of the Hul’q’umi’num language.

Qwustenuxun is already an accomplished writer and teacher. I know this from following his Facebook page, where his short posts on land, language, history and culture often generate dozens of shares. 

“Now is a time for picking up the pieces of our broken relationship and putting them back together, and to do that we have to come together and create a common understanding,” Qwustenuxun told me. 

I asked Qwustenuxun a few questions about his background, his life, and why he’s willing to accept this new challenge. There are a few Hul’q’umi’num words in his answers. Qwustenuxun has generously offered translations in a language guide at the bottom of this article.

Who are you? Where are you from?

Eenthu hwumuhw sne Qwustenuxun, I am the son of Sid and Adriana Williams. My father’s parents are the late Earl Williams from Somena and Jane Qwustanulwut Williams, née Wesley, from Snuneymuxw. Earl’s parents were Maggie Gabourie and Henry Xituluq Williams. Jane’s parents were Weldon Unxim Wesley and Emily Hwulapiyu White. My hwulmuhw family has connections with the Modeste Family. Sarah Wesley, who was Weldon Wesley’s sister, married Suhilton and became Sarah Modeste and one of their children was Elwood Modeste. We also have strong ties to the Thomas family, as Anastasia Williams, Henry Williams sister, married George Thomas and they had many children. Through marriage we are linked to the Underwood family, the George family, the Rice family, and many others. My mom’s side is hwunitum; most of her family grew up with my dad’s family. Her parents were the late Hendrick Roleants and Ina Horn. My grandmother Ina Horn was the granddaughter of Mary Caroline Blair, the last seated duchess of Sutherland at Carbisdale Castle. And my grandfather Hendrick Roleants was a decorated Dutch resistance fighter from World War II.

What keeps you busy?

I dedicate as much time as I can to spending quality time with my two sons. We walk our wolves in the forests at the bottom of Pi’paam; I take them swimming and to nearby playgrounds; we go for walks up in the mountains and on the riverside; we even sail around Salt Spring on my Hobie in the summer. Ensuring I spend time with them while they are still small is the main focus of my time. But other things include being a Salish food sovereignty educator, owning the biggest live-action role playing game in Western Canada, learning Hul’q’umi’num, spending time with my wife, and general husbandry.

Why is it important, here and now, to build understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities?

We have entered the age of reconciliation. For the first time in the history of Canada the government is now acknowledging the atrocities that were committed. Now is a time for picking up the pieces of our broken relationship and putting them back together, and to do that we have to come together and create a common understanding. If we want to move forward together we have to both acknowledge where we come from.

Tell me about your work in the Elders Kitchen. What do you do? What does spending time there allow you to learn and experience?

A wise man once said, a person who loves their job will never work a day in their life. I can attest to that being the truth: if I won the lottery I’d still show up for work on Monday. I literally lead a team whose sole purpose is to cook the best quality food and serve it to the Quw’utsun Sul-hween, most of whom are my aunties and uncles. All the while I get to speak Hul’q’umi’num with the elders, hear their stories, their political positions, their disputes, their agreements, and best of all I get to make friends with most of them. I talk about how First Nations people live two lives, one that runs on money and one that runs on honour. Well, working at the Elders Kitchen pays both money and honour, all while teaching me more about myself than I could learn anywhere else.

Jared Qwustenuxun Williams cooks pi’qwun, a traditional salmon preparation, at the Quw’utsun River Day celebration in 2019. Photo credit: Barry Hetschko

What, in your mind, are the most pressing challenges that Cowichan Valley communities face as we look to the future?

The Cowichan Valley is currently facing many challenges that are all set to grow in the coming years unless something is done to directly combat them. Our watershed has been nearly clearcut. Now our salmon are all but gone, our river is suffering, and our cedars are beginning to disappear, all as a consequence of decades of forest mismanagement. Now, I have to ask the question: What is the Cowichan Valley without salmon, without cedar, and without the Cowichan River? Is it still Cowichan?

What motivates you to want to write for The Discourse? 

I enjoy educating the broader public about the modern Salish world and especially how our joined history directly impacts our world today. As a child of both worlds, with Scottish and Salish ancestry, I have had a great deal of success translating complex topics related to Salish food, culture, and language, using concepts and comparisons that non-Indigenous people can understand and relate to. I’ve worked hard to share these lessons with the world in person, on television, on CBC Radio, and on my Facebook page, so a chance to reach the broader audience of The Discourse’s readers would be an honour.

Hul’q’umi’num language guide

eenthu hwumuhw sne – my First Nations name is
Snuneymuxw – Nanaimo
hwulmuhw – First Nations person
hwunitum – non-First Nations person
Pi’paam – Mt. Tzouhalem
Hul’q’umi’num – Cowichan’s language
Quw’utsun Sul-hween – Cowichan Elders