Village Workshop with Kathi Camilleri

DSC_0153Many years ago the size of dugout canoes were substantially larger. The nations that were paddling in the coastal waters would fit 40 people in one tree. Nowadays, finding a cedar of such size is a task that even the most adventurous would have difficulties achieving if at all. It is common for people making dugouts to use two cedars interlocking them together so a larger size can be created. This was the idea that Kathi Camilleri had in mind when she was creating her village workshop, the idea that those with different backgrounds can finally be together as one.

When the workshop began, the circle took up the entire floor of the Klahoose Multi-Purpose Building. People had to readjust their chair every time a straggler came in. This workshop, which Dr. Brokenleg believes should be called an “experience” rather than a workshop because of its heavy involvement of roleplaying. The idea was to create a village in a pre-contact setting with the traditional values of the Coast Salish people. To start the roleplaying Camilleri would ask people questions if they were a musician, artist, worked public service, or had recently bought a new article of clothing. Each time someone raised his or her hand she would give that person an object that represents the personality trait. DSC_0164The musicians would get a rattle. Politicians or those who worked public service got a wooden talking feather and so on. Each person that got an item would walk to the centre of the circle and place it onto a beautifully painted deerskin. The items on the deerskin were to represent the values held in the village.

There were four things the workshop patrons were to remember: love, respect, kindness, and generosity. These were idealistic values because in a community it is destined that people are going to be human together. Everyone makes mistakes, and the idea is to learn from these mistakes. Another thing that was mentioned is back in those times leadership was not measured by how much a person keeps, but how much they gave away. Once all the values and their representative figures were placed on the deerskin, Camilleri asked if anyone would like to volunteer to be the children of the community–and if they were comfortable with sitting on the floor. The “children” sat around the deerskin. The children of the community are to be loved, nurtured, praised, and above all treated as if they were sacred. That way, when they grow up and become the next generation the important values would come naturally. For example, whenever a child was born there was a ceremony so the community could become familiar with the name and face of the child. This way everyone in the community would know the child, its parents, and the name it bares.

The next group of volunteers would be the parents of the village. The “parents” brought chairs and placed them so they were directly behind the children. Then next up were the aunts and uncles, which sat behind the parents. Then after them were the elders who were the wise men and women who passed on the stories and culture traditions. By that point the majority of the people that were in the workshop were sitting in a layered circle. The small percentage that was left stood on the edge of the circle and was given the roll of hunter/gatherers and protectors. When asked how people felt about the village their response was filled with heartwarming sensation of protection and unity. It was a feeling of moving and being together.

Then there was a lunch break.


After lunch everyone got back into his or her positions. Camillieri was preparing herself for the second part of the workshop “oh boy here comes the hard part.” All participants had their role now it was time for her to play hers. She was going to be a colonizer. She put on this red baseball cap. She explained the situation of the Red Cap as a poorer person from Europe having difficulties and that his government promised him free land in Canada if he went there. For a struggling European it must have felt like a Godsend. So, when Red Cap came to Canada he considered First Nations people considerably lower than him because he was a landowner. Red Cap said,

“Hey guys, I’m here to help you because you don’t know any better. I’m the landowner here. You older guys are way too old to changed to be like me. But your children will be what we call ‘assimilated.’”

Red Cap took the children from the centre of the circle and placed them off the side of the village in a residential school. The people of the village felt betrayed. Red Cap then took all of the belongings that were placed on the deerskin and replaced it with a bottle of alcohol. Camilleri took off the Red Cap and asked everyone in the circle,

DSC_0163“Would having your children taken away from you community make you feel very good? Do you think this is something that you think you would want to remember?”

Everyone gave the obvious answer.

She said, “This is when a lot of heavy self medicating took place through alcohol.”

Camilleri put the Red Cap back on her head and said “Well I’m gonna take away all your practices of gathering food and give you these bags of flour. And if I find out that you guys are hiding children I’ll take away those bags of flour.”

A few years had gone by of a childless village. Red Cap said “get over it and get off the bottle already. Look, I don’t want to take care of you forever. What? You guys can’t get jobs because you’re a bunch of drunks. But you know what, since I’m so nice I’ll help you guys out. How about I rearrange how you live. Instead of being in this circle business how about you guys can get into a straight line and I’ll list you off one by one.” Red Cap arranged everyone into a straight line and stood behind and said, “There. See now isn’t that just a really awesome system?”

The “children” came back from the residential school and were on the opposite side of the room of the parents, aunts and uncles, elders, hunters and protectors who were all in straight lines faced towards the wall.

“How do we fix this?” asked Camilleri.[1]

“Forgiveness” said someone within the straight line.

“That is the only way complete healing can come. Red Hat’s hat must come off and must see everyone as an equal.”[2]

It was an intense workshop with a lot of tears, a brilliant way to put the history and trauma into people’s eyes. It was an excellent structure of presenting perspective. A great workshop to give people an idea of what it was like to have gone through the experience. Losing your children, language, and culture is a trauma that First Nations people went through. Every step towards healing each other is a great step forward. A big thank you for Kathi Camilleri for coming to Klahoose for this workshop.


[1] Hales. Roy Native American History seen through Village Workshop: San Diego Loves