By Cormac O’Brien

Cheryl Bryce among the trees. Photo by Belle White.

Each year, new studies prove the benefits of living with and among trees. But for Indigenous people, many of these discoveries are nothing new. 

Cheryl Bryce is a Songhees Nation member who practices growing and harvesting traditional foods and sovereignty in the same way her ancestors did before her. For Bryce and the Songhees First Nation, the Island’s forests and ecosystems are not just natural but cultural, with a connection that goes back to time immemorial. With that, she says, comes an understanding about the human race’s place within those systems.

“We need the land, we need the environment, we need the trees, we need the plants. We’re not above them; we’re a part of them, and what we do affects them,” Bryce says.

Bryce helps lead invasive species cleanups and she harvests indigenous plants and leads tours educating people about Victoria’s indigenous species and the roles they played in her nation’s culture and history. She says she sometimes hears people talk about finding these species “frustrating,” due to the fact that they may not flower as often or they lose more leaves than other plants.

“But it’s really important to consider that even though someone may not connect to the land in the same way Indigenous people do, we consider it a part of our family,” Bryce says. “[The land is] a part of who we are. And it creates an important give and take between all of the different life that lives within those ecosystems.”

And at the end of the day, people who invest time and energy into preserving the land are the ones that reap the rewards.

“A healthy land is a healthy people.”

This article is from the May/June 2019 issue of YAM.