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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.

Share Your Voice: Communicate Your Knowledge

Pacific loon swimming in ocean

“Share your knowledge. Each time you share, someone will learn something new, even in its smallest detail” (Charles, 2018).


When you’re preparing to use your voice to share your knowledge, think of the loon. The distinctive quality of the loon, and in particular the common loon, is its haunting and mournful wail. The loon’s unique voice makes it instantly recognizable and its call stands out amongst other voices (Alphonse & Charles, 2018).12

Elder Arvid Charlie (Luschiim, Cowichan) (2018), verbally shared a story from the Elders of Cowichan about the common loon13 and how the loon got its voice. As Elder Charlie is a Hul'q'umi'num' speaker, the words provided in brackets are Hul'q'umi'num':

A person was cautioned not to bathe up in some bad ground (qulunup), but he insisted on going there for his spiritual bathing (kw’aythut). He was warned that the spirits would cause bad and painful things to his body (luku lukwuthaam) that would hurt him like arthritis, but he kept going. Eventually, he was broken up and was changed into a loon (Swukuun). You can tell that he is still in pain because you can hear them still ailing when they wail (‘a’nu thut).

When you’re getting ready to share your knowledge, have faith that your voice is unique and only you can share it. The loon’s experience determined its voice; so too will your academic voice draw on your personal, professional, and academic experiences.

Teaching: Never-Ending Learning

As explained by Elders Shirley Alphonse and Nadine Charles (2018), in First Nations communities, different Elders share the same stories many times with people as doing so gives people many opportunities to learn. Each telling will bring meaning to someone in the room, and each time someone hears a teaching, different information is added to their understanding, even if the teaching is the same. The same teaching may be presented slightly differently by different Elders, either by adding new information to a teaching or providing more detail if listeners are ready to learn more, so each telling presents the opportunity to learn something new every time.

Share Your Voice

It’s not unusual for students to feel that they have nothing unique to say on a topic. Students may also feel that their ideas are insignificant since they’re not yet experts on a topic. While the specific topic might be new to you, your writing is an opportunity to explain your relationship to the topic, including how your experiences connect with the topic, why you think the topic is important or relevant, and how you can apply the subject matter to other uses. You might share other people’s understanding of material, but only you can explain exactly how you think about it. The academic community is like a vast conversation with scholars bringing their own voices to discussions, and as a student, your writing is one way for you to bring your voice to that conversation. Even though readers may have some familiarity with the topic, hearing your distinctive voice through your writing will give readers the opportunity to learn something new.

12 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.

13 Elder Charlie approved the story text and granted permission for the story to be shared outside of the Four Feathers Writing Guide without seeking his permission. The authorship of the story remains with the Cowichan Elders.

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