Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

Searching the Forest for the Trees

Indigenous communities rush to find the few remaining monumental cedars for totem poles, house posts, and canoes.

Authored by

by Katrina Pyne, and Grant Callegari

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In communities around the world, the ecological value of trees is often intertwined with cultural values. Famous examples are the baobabs of southern Africa, the banyans of India, the flowering cherries of Japan, and the corks of Spain and Portugal.

Dig deeper and you’ll find that the human-tree connection predates written records. Ties between Australian Aborigines and the eucalyptus, the Maya and the ceiba, and the North American northwest peoples and the cedar all date back thousands of years.

The Nanwakolas Council, composed of six First Nations in British Columbia with traditional territories on northern Vancouver Island and adjacent areas, has been helping Indigenous youth and coastal communities in general strengthen their connection with cedar. The project, the Large Cultural Cedar Project, trains and sends out surveyors to locate monumental cedars—the big trees that provide communities with house posts, totem poles, and canoes.

There are few giant cedars left on Vancouver Island and the first step in saving them—and revitalizing an ancient relationship—is finding them.