For the past several months I have stood several times in the legislature in defence of wild Pacific salmon.
Folks might be wondering why?
As a person of W̱SÁNEĆ heritage, I come from an ancient line of reefnet (SW̱OLE) fishermen. We have strong teachings about our relationship with all living things around us, even the Southern Gulf Islands are our relatives.
Salmon are no different. Arguably, our relationship with SĆÁÁNEW̱ (wild Pacific salmon) is one of the most important, it forms our belief and our law.
In this Private Members’ Statement I highlight the sacred relationship with salmon, the law that has governed the Salish Sea and Saanich Peninsula for countless generations and the need to refocus our efforts in protection and enhancement of our relatives, the wild Pacific salmon.
I call on government to fulfill our sacred relationship with the salmon with much greater urgency that we are currently doing.
There was a time when the WSÁNEĆ were a hungry people, but the Great Spirit changed that. This is the story, and these are the words of my uncle STOLȻEȽ. Those beautiful islands and bays and inlets, our clam beds, oyster beds, our octopus beds — all of those are sacred to us because of our belief. It’s a belief that we have about how they came to be — whether it’s clams, mussels, oysters, fishes, all of the species of fish that travel through our territory. It’s our belief. It’s what our elders said. It’s their words.
They were a people long ago before they became fish. They were a good people, a hard-working people that didn’t have an enemy anywhere. They had no enemies. They worked well with everyone, and XÁLS appeared to them and said: “The way you are living is good. You have no enemies, and you work hard, so I’m going to keep you that way.” He changed them into the SĆÁÁNEW̱ — all the fishes and salmon — and he sent them out to sea. They all worked together. He sent them out to sea as families. The spring salmon, the sockeye salmon, humpback salmon, all the salmon — they go out to sea as a family, and they return back to their home as a family.
Our elders respected the laws that we were given, so each year in the late spring, the ironwood tree blossoms. I think it’s called the ocean spray today. It blossoms a beautiful blossom and a kind of beige-coloured plume, and there’s a beautiful scented aroma throughout Saanich. You have to be in awe of it when you look at it, because it’s so pretty, and the smell of it means Saanich summer.
It’s a marker on the natural calendar for our people. When that took place, it meant that now the salmon are starting to travel within our homeland territory. They’re within our reach. And then it means that it’s time to get ready to go and move and be out there in our homeland and our territory.
When we were living in our natural state of life, ŦIŦE, a spiritual leader, was sent out to paddle to the edge of the territory, to SMOḰEĆ, a place that’s called Point Roberts today. By himself, he paddled as a prayer for the people at that time, paddling on his way, and each stroke of his paddling was like a prayer for the people.
He never had anything to eat. He gave up food and gave up water until he reached a place which is called SḴŦOḴEȽ — Mayne Island — where there’s a beautiful spring water there. He would stop and have a drink and a rest. That was his first full day. Early in the morning, he’d drink water and travel on, continuing his effort to finish his prayer work for the people, to begin their fishing season.
He paddled until he reached SMOḰEĆ. At the edge of the territory, he stood in his canoe and faced all the islands there, and he spoke to them as people. “Your relatives will be here soon,” he would say. “You should look after them like you were told. You look after them like you were told, and they will look after you the way they were told by the Great Spirit.”
That’s a belief. That’s a way of life for our people, what an island is, where food is gathered, where families are gathered, where history is told, where education takes place, how to live in this country in the way it was meant to be. He would pray to the salmon, SĆÁÁNEW̱, that spirit of all the fishes, and he would say: “Take pity on us and feed us once more, and we will respect you like we always have.” That was a prayer for the people.
When he was done that, he paddled back home, two more days. He stopped at the drinking place, SḴŦOḴEȽ, to get water and then paddled back home, back to the village where he would gather the people around him and say: “I’ve done my best for you. I’ve opened your fishing season. You can go and get ready to go. I’ve opened the way for you.”
Look after our homeland. Look after it. Take care of it. That’s a belief for us. It’s a law.
When it’s taken away from us, it’s no different than throwing away your crucifix or the pages of your Bible and throwing it in the bush or a ditch. It’s the same thing for us. That Bible that you swear on in your courts — it’s like taking that and throwing it away.
Our right, our religious belief, connects us to the land, to the salmon. Our prayer words for all those fish were given to us to look after that resource so that there will always be some for the future.
Those are the powerful words of my uncle STOLȻEȽ. So you might wonder why it is that I stand in this place and often speak of my relatives, the SĆÁÁNEW̱, the hard-working people that my uncle STOLȻEȽ spoke about in his testimony to the National Energy Board hearing for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, the project that W̱JOȽEȽP has outright rejected.
We rejected the cash offerings dangled in front of our noses to support their project. We rejected that project. In Saanich, the heart of which is covered by the riding I now represent, there is a law. It is the law that, even as I stand in this old stone building, is much, much older.
It is a law to always be reminded of our responsibility for our homeland, for our territory, for my riding. Reminded by our ŦIŦE that we have been told by the Great Spirit to look after our relatives the islands and our relatives the SĆÁÁNEW̱.
When we followed that law, when everything we did was in accordance with that belief, with that law, then things looked after themselves. This law has never gone away. It has only been replaced. This law is not just for the W̱ILṈEW̱ in W̱SÁNEĆ; it’s for all of us that live there today. It’s time for us to renew our commitment to this law. It is time once again for our ŦIŦE to paddle his solemn prayer and swear his solemn oath. It’s time that we were reminded of our duty and our responsibility to the SĆÁÁNEW̱, the wild Pacific salmon.
Government response from Janet Routledge (Burnaby North)
I thank the member for Saanich North and the Islands for his eloquent words. I know I’ve gained new insight into what wild salmon mean to his culture and traditions, to his beliefs and values and to his sense of his place in the world. I’m truly moved. Thank you.
In preparing to speak about wild salmon today, I, too, reflected on history. I reminded myself about the role that salmon fishing has played in my culture, in the well-being of my family.
I grew up in central Canada, far from the ocean, far from any salmon streams, but canned salmon was a staple in my home as a child. I went to school with salmon sandwiches for lunch a couple of times a week and so did all my friends. At least one salmon casserole was brought to union picnics or church potlucks. Salmon was vital to our household income and to the families in my neighbourhood. But it wasn’t until I moved to this coast that I came to understand that the B.C. salmon fishing industry not only fed my family; it fed the world.
I recently learned that during the Second World War millions of cans of salmon — every single can of B.C. salmon — was shipped overseas to feed the troops. The first canneries opened in 1870, and by 1900, there were 60 canneries up and down the coast. It was the second-largest industry in B.C., outpaced only by forestry. As I’ve learned, most of our coastal communities started as fishing villages. Familiar place names like Ladner and Deas bear the names of the earliest cannery owners.
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston is today a national historical site. Just recently I attended an exhibit at the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby that commemorates the contributions made by Nordic Canadians to the B.C. fishing industry, and those contributions were significant — the building of fishing boats, innovations in gillnets.
I don’t need to remind this House that fishing was one of the foundational industries upon which B.C. was built and prospered. Every day we’re here we can look up and see salmon fishing immortalized in one of the beautiful murals in the rotunda. But, of course, not everyone prospered as much as did others.
I remember years ago a United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union organizer showed me some of the old pay books from the early days. In those days, fishermen and cannery workers were mostly Indigenous, Chinese and Japanese. But they weren’t identified in the pay book by their given names. The owners gave them racialized nicknames, and their pay rates were determined by ethnicity and gender.
Now, I’ve been talking about salmon fishing in the past tense because, of course, as we all know, this once mighty industry is in decline if not in demise. We usually, and rightly, attribute the misfortunes of the B.C. salmon industry to the dangerous decline in salmon stock, but I would also remind us that it was free trade, NAFTA, that triggered the beginning of the end when it allowed raw salmon to be shipped across the border to be processed in U.S. fish plants. Sound familiar?
Let me point out that what were once two of the most important and renewable industries in B.C. have both been undermined by the practice of shipping raw product to be processed and sold back to us.
Now, I’d like to talk more about the relationship between declining fish stocks and international trade agreements, and I’d like to explore other features of globalization, like factory ships, overfishing, fish farms, climate change and the impact they have on wild salmon stock. But I see I’m running out of time, and I will leave it to my colleague to elaborate, if he so wishes.
Let me conclude. Our government is deeply committed to protecting B.C.’s wild salmon and the 10,000 jobs that depend on it. We know it’s essential to the economy, the province and B.C. First Nations, and we’re committed to implementing the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples and forging new relationships with B.C. First Nations.
Response from Adam Olsen (Saanich North and the Islands)
Thank you to the member for Burnaby North. As she said, it’s not just Indigenous people of British Columbia that have a special relationship with wild salmon. Whether you’re from an ancient line of reef-netters, as I am, or you’re recently moved here, British Columbians have a special connection to our fish.
I received in the mail a copy of Ms. Cicely Lyons’s tome, Salmon: Our Heritage, a 700-page gift from a friend and a dear friend of wild salmon. This book was written by Ms. Lyons as a history of the salmon fishery on the west coast. Ms. Lyons worked her entire career in one of those fish packing plants, the B.C. Packers corporation. Her work is in homage to the salmon.
Admittedly, I’ve yet to read the book in its entirety, but I want to focus on the penultimate paragraph:
“While the government of Canada is both official guardian and executor of this priceless food trust, in the final analysis the ultimate responsibility for its survival rests with the individual British Columbian. It is he who must be ever on alert to oppose any course that might lead to its impairment, as well as to lend assistance to any measure aimed at its enrichment, because salmon is B.C.’s heritage.”
I have prepared a report from a very powerful round table I hosted in Vancouver with First Nations, fish and wildlife organizations, conservation, sport and commercial fishing groups. There was unanimous support for the proposal to establish a wild salmon secretariat or a wild salmon commissioner to serve as that unifying force to streamline all fisheries work being done in British Columbia by the B.C. government, to be a strong defender of wild salmon in negotiations with the federal government.
There is no question that the federal government has responsibility for wild salmon and that we must hold them accountable, but as we are currently organized, that’s not happening. There is also no question that our provincial government has responsibility for wild salmon and that we must also be accountable, but as we are currently organized — or disorganized, as it is seen on the ground — we are losing.
We must honour the powerful words of STOLȻEȽ, Ms. Lyons and those incredible people working on the ground every day in our province to honour the sacred relationship we have with SĆÁÁNEW̱, the wild pacific salmon. I stand in this place and implore our government to take action with great urgency. Neither ŦIŦE nor Ms. Lyons just spoke easy words in defence of our relatives the SĆÁÁNEW̱. They worked. They spent a lifetime building a relationship, nurturing the relationship and honouring the relationship. It is time that we once again do the same. HÍSWḴE SIÁM.