Posted by: Tad McIlwraith | June 13, 2011

Lessons for a Lifetime

By Shannon Hecker

My name is Shannon Hecker.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in this fieldschool for the last four weeks. I brought my daughter along with me so that she too could benefit from this unique experience.  I’ve been attending Douglas College on and off for 7 years. I have had some challenges when it has come to finding my focus at school and deciding what my future career will be. Two years ago I took my first anthropology course (Native cultures of BC) and from that day forward I knew I was going to become an anthropologist. Since then I have taken almost all the courses in anthropology that are offered at Douglas and with much enthusiasm I will be going into my third year at UBC this coming September.  Doing anthropology in the classroom is interesting and fun. However actually living and working with the people in this community has made my dream come true. It was everything I was expecting and more.  I wouldn’t trade the last 4 weeks for anything. The Splatsin people have welcomed us with open arms and I think the hardest part of the entire field school was having to return home.

During my time in Splatsin territory I made many friends quickly.  I spent every Tuesday at the health centre making medicine bags, and making friends as well.  I naively wore my medicine bag empty for a few days until I was asked what was in my medicine bag and I replied with some embarrassment that there was nothing in there.  However this display of naivety prompted me to ask more questions and learn even more.  I don’t expect this to be the last time I find myself embarrassed in the field due to my lack of knowledge.  However that’s what this is all about, living and learning.  Sometimes the best way to learn is from your mistakes.

I attended a cultural gathering the weekend of the 27th, 28th and 29th. It was a wonderful experience.  There were so many talented people there and the songs and dances were very uplifting.  One important lesson I learned there was that when there is bannock, you have to act quick if you want to get some!  I think the highlight of my stay was being able to do a sweat at the sweat lodge.  This is a very empowering ceremony where the act of prayer combined with intense heat are used to cleanse the mind body and soul.  I left the sweat feeling like a new person and the only regret I have is that I didn’t get the chance to do anymore sweats.  All the more reason for me to return sooner than later.

My goal during this trip was to learn as much as I could about plants, medicine and spirituality. We all had our own individual interests and were placed on projects the band was interested in having completed based on those interests.  As a result I spent the majority of my time in and around the Splatsin teaching centre identifying and researching many of the plants in the cultural garden that is located behind the building.  I was fortunate to get to spend some time with the kia7as (grammas) at the teaching centre and learn from them about various plants and their uses. Randy and Rosalind were also invaluable teachers who taught me about many plants and the ways in which they were used for healing. My neighbour while I was living there and friend, Linda taught me how to make a pine basket.  My friend Glen taught me a lot about dancers and healing. The more people I befriended the more valuable lessons in life I was taught.  As the weeks went by it became clearer to me that plants, medicine and spirituality are very connected and one must have a holistic approach to maintain personal well being. Not only did I learn alot about the history and culture of the Splatsin people, but I also learned a lot about myself.  Most importantly I learned that we are always learning no matter how old you are and everyone has some knowledge to offer.

Although the time we spent there was brief, I can proudly say with confidence that I feel I have been accepted as an honorary member of this community.  I want to thank all of those who welcomed us into their homes and were eager to share their knowledge, without your help, our field school would not have been such a great success!



  1. Oh and by the way, I forgot to mention the Felix famiy and friends who took spent much time with teaching us the ins and outs of the Lahal (stick game). I was fortunate to acquire my own set and look forward to challenging others to play in the future. Thank you very much everyone for your hospitality and friendship!

    • Hi Shannon,

      I work at Douglas College as the coordinator of faculty development and so am keenly interested in learning. That’s one of the reasons I read your blog.

      The public nature of learning is one of the themes that seems to run through your post and those of other students at Splatsin as well. In a new context/new culture, learning is very rich, but “not knowing” places people in a highly visible position. Whether the learning is about what gets put in a medicine bag or about whether a branch is from a fir tree or a cedar, there is that delicate moment of not knowing that carries the learner to a place of vulnerability. Maybe it is one of the reasons why people stay home — or why they take the kinds of risks that you folks are taking by going on a field school.

      Thanks for the window into your field school experience.

    • In my haste I forgot to mention the Johnson family, their contributions to my learning experience should not be excluded. Thank you to all of you for helping me work on my stick game. We shared many moments of joy and laughter, moments that I will never forgot.

  2. Shannon,
    It is always such a pleasure to hear about a student’s first experiences and enthusiasm for doing fieldwork. It sounds like you really made some significant insights about how things work in the community, forged strong friendships, and learned something about yourself along the way. These insights are often the most important ingrediants for successful fieldwork!

    • I learned alot, at times I felt like I was having an information overload! LOL

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