Willie Seymour and Meaghan Champion with the barter currency called Tetlas.
By Judith Lavoie
Meaghan Champion intends to reform the monetary system.
Not an easy ambition, she admits, as she thumbs through a pile of Tetlas, the currency she is using for a barter system.
But, First Nations have a history of bartering and it is time for new ideas to help people cope financially and raise money for worthy projects, said Champion, a member of Cowichan Tribes living in Esquimalt.
“Money is just a tool,” said Champion, comparing the Tetlas to Canadian Tire money. “Our people have bartered and traded since the beginning of time. The Tetlas will allow us to realize our cultural inheritance.”
So far, 35 businesses, ranging from restaurants to web designers, have signed on to the Tetla system, allowing between 25 per cent and 100 per cent of the bill to be paid in Tetlas.
“Right now, there are over 5,000 Tetlas in circulation and they can be used to buy services or as a reward or people can donate them to us,” said Champion, who is also hoping for donations of grocery gift cards. “The more people that participate in this, the more value the Tetlas have.”
To obtain Tetlas, participants can accept them in payment or offer a service in return.
From a business point of view, Tetlas can be used as a marketing tool, said Champion, who owns a house-cleaning business.
“Businesses get new customers and people tend to buy things they wouldn’t buy if they were spending money,” she said.
Tetlas cannot be used to buy alcohol or drugs.
Scott Kelly, manager of Mister Sweeper Vacuums, which allows 25 per cent to be paid in Tetlas, said he looks at it as a discount for new clients.
“It’s a form of alternative currency that people can trade for products and services,” he said.
“It’s what people have been doing for thousands and thousands of years.”
Champion’s major aim is to raise money for Snuwylh Lelum, a teaching house, where all cultures can come together and learn about Coast Salish culture.
“We are trying to create an immersion experience so people can bathe in the culture,” she said.
Willie Seymour, a Stz’uminus First Nation elder, has completed a series of lectures on traditional teachings, and is hoping, one day, to be able to deliver them in a new Snuwylh Lelum big house — built with the help of a Tetla economy.
“We need something for all people. We are trying to build a bridge between nations,” he said.
Coast Salish teachings are based on helping other people, Seymour said.
“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. You have to open your hand and say thank you.”
It is a massive project and it is likely about $50,000 will be needed, but Champion has faith it will happen.
Already there have been offers of land and construction work and a fundraising dinner is scheduled for May 20 at the Esquimalt Big House, she said.
“Tetlas are very much like salmon spawning. They go out to sea and mysteriously come back and spawn more salmon,” she said.
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