Unsung Heroes Gisele Maria Martin

Posted by on Nov 26, 2013 in Blog, Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes: Gisèle Maria Martin

From the Tla-o-qui-aht


At the 10th World Wilderness Congress we discovered hundreds of young activists who were working quietly behind the scenes to make the WILD vision a reality. We felt that these people’s activities should be recognised. In keeping with the knowledge that young people are the future, we asked our team of young trainee journalists in the press office to go out and interview them.

Her business card says she is a cultural educator, but her background is deeper than that. Gisèle is a young indigenous woman from the Tla-o-qui-aht, who attended WILD10 to present the teachings of her ancestors. She is at the conference as her father’s proxy to share the teachings of her culture. Environment and culture are suffering. We need to heal both.

“My grandfather raised a totem pole in our main village. It represents our constitution. Our people never used written words; all writing was through symbolic art. Carvings all over our village express meaning. The totem pole in the centre constantly reminds the inhabitants of our laws.

She explains that it has four crests. The top crest is about Isaak. This word alone can be translated in 20 different ways. It teaches us respect, and to be observant, and act accordingly. The new moon, for example, is a time of beginning. If you want to attain something, you should meditate on that during the new moon.

Under the moon, there is the crest of the Raven. The Raven represents all life forms and the interconnections between us. Nature provides for our needs, but not for our greed. In turn, the Raven is carried by the Siisuulth, a double headed supernatural being. This crest is symbolic of the power of transformation. It also holds teachings about facing our fears, and facing ourselves.

Finally, the whole totem is carried by a wolf crest. It is an important part, because the wolf upholds the rest, and is connected to all others. The wolf is like the policeman of nature. It guards the balance between life. “In our tribe, killing a wolf would be worse than killing a police officer. Carrying teachings of the wolf clan, nowadays, means standing up against many things that are happening in our culture and environment”, explains Gisèle.

“Many people are not aware of the horrors that our people have suffered through the residential school system. Kids were exported to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their own language. Children were beaten to death in the schools. Our people now have among the highest rates of alcoholism and suicide. Colonization and corporate activities have caused a lot of harm, both to our culture, and the environment, which are interconnected.  To heal this, we must protect and reconnect with the places that strengthen us, what some of the outside world calls “wilderness”, which is our home… .”

Gisèle thinks that the WILD10 conference was a good start in making international connections, but also that nature needs much more than 50%. Still her presence here has brought her to amazing people, particularly on the panel with indigenous people. “Their messages are in harmony with ours” she says. “It is nice to be in one room with brothers and sisters who share this love for our home planet.”


This interview was conducted by Gilles Havik – Gilles, who is from the Netherlands, graduated in Biology & Forest and Nature Conservation and is currently working for the municipality of Amsterdam on various conservation projects. He writes a blog called Sailing On Dreams.

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