Trees Holding Hands

Trees Holding Hands as a Guiding Principle was brought into the Integrative Science co-learning journey when, in 2003, our efforts expanded from their birthing arena of post-secondary science education into the arena of science research and outreach.

We quickly realized that a Guiding Principle was needed to encourage manifestation of the understanding that “only when knowledge is conditioned by respect can it be truly shared” (in Mi’kmaq: “Ta’n tujiw kjijitaqn tela’tasik kepne’ktn ketloqo kisiktpi’tasitew”) (Mi’kmawey 1997). We chose “Trees Holding Hands” from the late Mi’kmaw Spiritual Leader, Healer, and Chief Charles Labrador of Acadia First Nation, Nova Scotia. It is guidance that he offered publically and privately to many people in his life. His words:

“Go into the forest, you see the birch, maple, pine. Look underground and all those trees are holding hands. We as people have to do the same.”

The above wording comes via an interview (Kierans 2003) with the Chief’s son Todd in which he quotes his Father’s wisdom and also says: “Everything I do, I do with respect. Father used to say, believe in all people. It’s not we and them. It’s us.”

Read about "Trees Holding Hands" within our co-learning journey towards Two-Eyed Seeing (final, revised draft for chapter in forthcoming book).

Integrative Science research on visuals to depict Trees Holding Hands
Given our wish to be guided by Chief Labrador’s words, we developed an iconic visual to portray “Trees Holding Hands”:

Response to this iconic visual among youth audiences suggested, however, that it was not helping to convey the intended message. We speculated that this failure may relate to the life styles of many young people today, in that they have not had the personal experience of walking in the woods and seeing for themselves how roots of different trees often entangle such that, metaphorically speaking, the trees do hold hands.

Upon complementing the iconic visual with a photograph from the forest showing the naturally entangled roots of trees, we felt that audiences (of all ages) were better able to grasp the intended message.

References in above:
Kierans, K. 2003, May 18. Mi’kmaq craftsman preserves ‘old ways’. The Halifax Sunday Herald, p. C4.

Mi’kmawey. 1997. Poster for Conference: Mi’kmawey 1997 Advancing Mi’kmaq Scholars and Scholarship, Cape Breton University, Sydney, NS, October 10-12.