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Four Feathers Writing Guide

Learn more about traditional Coast Salish teachings and approaches to learning that can support your development as an academic writer.

Develop a Vision: Be of Good Heart and Mind

Two bald eagles sitting on top of a tree“What do you see? What’s your idea? Recognize you have something to contribute as an individual” (Charles, 2018).

Eagle/QELENSEN (Bald Eagle)

When you’re developing your vision, think of the eagle that is “the leader of all flying birds. The eagle is the strongest, has the greatest vision, is well-balanced, soars through the skies, and the eagle flies the highest to carry messages of prayer to our Creator/XALS” (Charles, 2018).7

Teaching: The Changer and the Eagle

After walking some distance the Changer came to a different village. He met a girl sitting down in a house. He asked her questions about sight. She said, “My eyes, I can’t see very well.”

“All right, I’ll fix that.” He slapped each side of her face and said, “All right, take a look out there. Look across the room.”

“Oh yes, I can see plainly now. I can see that side which I didn’t see before. Thank you for giving good eyesight.”

“You will be the Eagle.” And she flew off into the sky. (“The Changer and the Eagle”, 1978, p. 40)

Checking Your Heart and Mind

Students can bring a tremendous variety of emotions and experiences to the writing process, and before starting to develop your vision, check first to make sure you are of good heart and mind:

‘Checking your heart’ is a critical element in the research process. It is not done only once during the project, but many times and according to different reasons. Negative elements at the source of the project could bring suffering upon everyone in the community, and the obvious source of any research project is the heart/mind of the researcher. . . . A good heart guarantees a good motive, and good motives guarantee benefits to everyone involved. (Weber-Pillwax, 1999, p. 42)

Being mindful can also mean considering how your actions might affect others, such as team members. As Elder Shirley Alphonse (2018) explained, when she was a child and her brother and father went hunting, her mother told her daughters to stay still while they were gone. In particular, they weren’t allowed to sweep, because doing so could sweep out the good luck. Instead, they were to be mindful of where their father and brothers were on the mountain to help them have a good hunt. Even though Shirley and her sisters weren’t physically with their father and brothers, they were all working as one, and as a team, they all contributed to a successful hunt (Alphonse & Charles, 2018). As a Royal Roads student, you’ll be spending lots of time working with other students in teams, so checking your heart and mind is a good starting point for any collaborations.

Keeping with the theme of four, when you’re checking your heart and mind, consider the four aspects of life because "a loss of any of these aspects may cause an imbalance in your life and those around you" (Charles, 2018). Elder Nadine Charles (2018) shared the following descriptions of the four aspects of life:

Physical Mental Emotional Spiritual
Body Learning/growing Feelings Elder/Teacher who are strong spiritual leaders
Lifestyle Remembering Focus on the positive The Four Sacred Medicines (e.g., TEMEL, cedar, Gexmin, sweetgrass/sage)
Health Knowledge Respect for self Smudging
Nutrition - Food Awareness Humility The Seven Sacred Teachings (see "SIAM SELWÁN (Respected Elder) Teachings" in this guide)
Alcohol or drugs Wisdom Integrity Ceremonies with song and dance
    Honesty Bathing in the ocean, creek, or river

As you develop your vision and prepare yourself for your writing journey, take advantage of the many resources and services that are available to assist you. While only you can determine your vision for your work, you are not alone in the process. 

7 The teachings and approaches to learning in this guide are shared with permission. The ownership of the Traditional Knowledge remains in perpetuity with the appropriate Nation; accordingly, the information should not be re-used without explicit permission.

8 Permission to share this story was obtained from Chief Gordon Planes, Elected Chief of the T’Sou-ke Nation, the Sooke Museum, Darlene George, Francine George, and the family of Sandra Laurie (Cooper).

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