Exchange with our employees on the topic of culture and tradition


Robin Nahanee, Indigenous Professionals in Development

I am Coast Salish and have practiced my culture since I was a child. I am very grateful to my elders and ancestors for keeping our customs alive underground during the years of the Potlach ban. But over the years, there have been times when I have been ashamed of being Native because of the racism I experienced, and I have had to learn to walk the tightrope between practicing my culture and living in the outside world. It's great to have a day to honor Native people, but now I celebrate being Native every day.

My culture shaped me as a person growing up. At the age of seven, I was given an ancestral name. Ancestral names are a great responsibility in our culture because they mean that your actions reflect not only you, but also your parents and ancestors. You may have a name that belonged to someone who was very respected. We all have to follow in our footsteps, but we must live up to high standards. Many people use their ancestral name when they go out in the community because it represents a connection to the family and community they came from.

I attend cultural ceremonies in Coast Salish territories year-round, but my favorite time to attend is the winter cultural ceremonies. They occur from September to April and can be a traditional naming ceremony or a memorial service, usually held about four years after the death of a loved one.

Each ceremony is unique and has sacred, traditional aspects. People from across the community come together and a memorial service, for example, can have 800 to 1,000 people. I have traveled to ceremonies in all Coast Salish areas and you start to see familiar faces. You see the same people from your community throughout your life, from beginning to end. It's nice to be able to travel with a group that is with you to the end.

I have been with BC Hydro for a year now as part of the Indigenous Professionals in Development Program. Since I have been here, I have thrown myself into it full steam ahead, getting out of my comfort zone and doing many things for the first time. Last year I was able to help facilitate the performers for National Indigenous Peoples Day and this year I am stepping out of my comfort zone again to help facilitate the event.

It's so important to take these opportunities to try new things and share who you are. How are people supposed to understand why I am the way I am if I don't share my story?