Section 2.4: Giving Back

Outcomes

Students will:

  • Establish and maintain positive relationships within their community.

  • Understand the importance of reciprocity when taking from the land and the sacred significance of tobacco among many Indigenous groups in what is now Canada.

  • Share their learning and experience as a way of giving back to their community.

Key Terms

Reciprocity / Tobacco

See content or Module Glossary for definitions

Understanding Reciprocity, Offerings, and Respect for Plant Beings

A foundational teaching in Indigenous cultures is reciprocity. It is defined as the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. Giving an offering, such as tobacco, has spiritual significance in that it brings healing, gives thanks, and acknowledging the interrelatedness of all life forms. Reciprocity in practice maintains balance in the world and can be shown in many different ways. If you wish to express your appreciation for the ability to collect samples of a tree in nature, we suggest offering a tribute and laying tobacco in the area you want to sample it (process outlined below). You could also plant a tree. Be sure to get advice as to an appropriate tree for the ecosystem of the area and permission to plant.

Why Tobacco?

In many Indigenous communities across Canada, it is protocol to give an offering of tobacco when seeking knowledge, harvesting medicines, or to an animal after a successful hunt. Tobacco is one of the four sacred medicines in the Medicine Wheel. This medicine is a symbol of reciprocity and is offered to honour the exchange of knowledge between the one receiving and the one giving. Tobacco can be offered to the Creator, a person, a place, or a being. The tobacco is to be offered and received with the left hand, as our left arm is connected directly to our hearts.

Sampling

From an Indigenous perspective, every plant has a living spirit and deserves to be treated with respect. Before entering an area, be sure you have permission from owners and those caring for the land to enter. Be mindful that protected or endangered plants are not to be disturbed.

Begin the sampling process with a demonstration of respect and gratitude for the gifts you receive from the land. Make an offering of tobacco to the area where samples are taken by taking a pinch of tobacco using your left hand and place it on the general area where you are sampling. Laying tobacco serves as a reminder that our work must always be done in relationship with one another and with the land.

While the tobacco is being laid, the group is to focus their thoughts silently in gratitude for what they are going to receive from the land. Tobacco helps communicate thoughts and intentions to the spirit in the land and the laying of tobacco will make sure these thoughts are heard. Once the tobacco is down, the ceremony is complete and sampling can now begin. Going through this ceremony will help ensure that the land will work with you as well as understand that your intentions are respectful, being done with care, and that you are grateful for the land's sacrifice. After sampling, return any plant parts, soil, or unused samples to the land where they will decompose and become nutrient-rich material that will aid in soil, plant, and tree health.

Figure 13 shows a student collecting a tree core from a trembling aspen located in the Crooked Bush of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Figure 13 shows a student collecting a tree core from a trembling aspen located in the Crooked Bush of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Figure 14 shows high school students presenting their findings during a seminar held at the Canadian Light Source (CLS). These students were part of the CLS Students on the Beamlines program and were investigating the composition of the trembling aspens in the Crooked Bush of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Figure 14 shows high school students presenting their findings during a seminar held at the Canadian Light Source (CLS). These students were part of the CLS Students on the Beamlines program and were investigating the composition of the trembling aspens in the Crooked Bush of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Giving Back to the Community

Another way to practice reciprocity and find ways to give back to your community is to share your experience with the TREE program and what you have learned. Present your story and your findings to various community institutions such as your school, library, Elders, business organizations, local newspapers or newsletters, seniors, community members, or others. We especially encourage you to find a way to give back to those that have helped you along your journey. If you are willing, let us know how to approached this by emailing the CLS Education team (education@lightsource.ca).