In my second reading speech to Bill 14: Wildlife Amendment Act 2022 I share some of the W̱SÁNEĆ stories about our relationship with nature and all other life.
The amendments in Bill 14 provide for the official acknowledgement of sheltering agreements between Indigenous Nations. In addition, the Bill provides a framework for the province to collect confidential information from Indigenous Nations, maintain it, and destroy it once it is no longer needed.
I’m pleased to stand and take my spot and speak to Bill 14, Wildlife Amendment Act, 2022. I wanted to start today with…. Because this is an issue that, as I’ve talked about often, is near and dear to my heart. My Coast Salish name is SȾHENEP. I’m a W̱SÁNEĆ person from the village of WJOȽEȽP.
My father, his name is TSAYWESUT. His name shows up in the Supreme Court of Canada in the Morris-Olsen case. It’s a hunting case, and it’s a rights and title case that was…. The Supreme Court of Canada found in favour of my father and Wayne Morris in protecting their hunting rights.
I have a particular experience. My family has a particular experience engaging with the Wildlife Act in this province. It hasn’t been a positive one. It’s not one that brings a lot of happiness to our family, frankly. It’s challenging as we see yet another generation of hunters getting arrested and picked up on hunting charges from our community and going through the very same process that my father went through. It seems, frankly, like Groundhog Day.
I think the Wildlife Act is an act that needs to be amended and looked at from the bottom to the top. What we’re doing here with this Wildlife Amendment Act is we’re tinkering.
I think my colleague earlier raised some interesting points that I might touch on here in a few minutes, but first I’d just like to read something that was posted on the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council website. It’s an interview with my uncle, J,SIṈTEN. J,SIṈTEN is a very powerful storyteller in W̱SÁNEĆ. I’m just going to read.
You can find it online on their website, but I just wanted to read this into the record, because I think it puts into context what we’re talking about in this bill, where we’re talking about the hunting rights of Indigenous people, the relationships between neighbouring Indigenous nations and Indigenous peoples, the agreements and the arrangement that have been put into place over the years between Indigenous nations that the provincial government, frankly, hasn’t recognized, which has caused a lot of our people to have to stand before the courts and hear some frankly pretty terrible and awful things that come from the mouths of the lawyers of this province.
I think it also highlights the need for our information to be maintained and protected in a way that Indigenous people want it to be maintained and protected. As I’ve heard in this debate some concern around the secrecy of Indigenous information…. And I think that it’s an important place to start, because there are some very important pieces of information that are not to be shared, but if we start from that place and we have an open dialogue, government-to-government dialogue, with Indigenous nations, I think we can overcome some of the perceived challenges of what that looks like to ensure that the sensitivities are maintained.
J,SIṈTEN says this.
“The natural laws were originally given to our ancestors and forefathers by XÁLS, the creator, when he walked on the land. He gave us our natural ways of living on our land. Our families have been here for thousands of years. Our parents were fluent in SENĆOŦEN. I’ve been working on this project with my sister ȻOSINIYE, Linda Elliott; my cousin SELILYE, Belinda Claxton; my nephew, Kevin Paul; Lou Claxton; and also Eric Pelkey, who is working on parks and such things like that.
“I’ve been working on this for 41 years, and my sister has been working on this for 42 years. We’ve been working with 18 fluent SENĆOŦEN speakers, developing a curriculum for a tribal school. Part of this work includes the publications of the reef net technology, the [SENĆOŦEN spoken], which I’ve talked about often in this House, the salt water people and the calendar of the moons.
“Tim Montler came from Texas University to work with us on capturing the stories and language. We’ve been delving into stories about the origins of our people as far back as we can remember. We worked with those 18 fluent speakers until they were all gone. Lou Claxton is the only elder left.
“We were recording the stories on cassette tapes, and my father developed the writing system for the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Our stories contained the history of how things came to be. They tell of our long presence on this land. There are some things in the language, sacred words we use to communicate with the natural world, that we can’t share.
“What we can share are the stories that contain the history of how things came to be. They tell of our long presence on this land — for example, how the mountains were created.
The Creator paddled over to the east side of the Tsawout village and found some shiny, black stones on the beach. He threw one inland and the mountain grew out of the stone. He filled his basket with more black, shiny stones and went up to the top of this mountain. Then the people followed him up to that mountain, and there was a rock face cliff on the mountain, where they went. Once there, he threw more shiny stones around him, and that’s how all the other mountains came to be.
When he was finished with that work, then he grabbed some of our people, one by one, our ancestors, and he threw them out into the straits. As he tossed them out into the straits, he said: “QENT E TŦEN SĆÁLEĆE. You look after your relatives. Look after your relatives. Look after your relatives. QENT E TŦEN SĆÁLEĆE.” He threw them out into the straits, and as they landed in the straits, they became those islands that are still there today — the islands that I have the honour of representing in this Legislature. It’s what they call the Gulf and the San Juan Islands.
Those are our original ancestors that got changed by the Creator. These directions to look after our relatives are our laws. They’re the kinds of things we speak about with respect to the natural laws. For us, a belief and a law are the same. The names we have for different parts of the natural world are in relative terms.
For instance, the SENĆOŦEN word for salmon is older cousin, while the SENĆOŦEN word for deer, SMÍEŦ, is grandson. The word for island means “relative of the deep.” Our word for rock, boulder and mountains means “my gift.” Our word for earth means “wish for the people.”
The stories of how things came to be contain teachings from the Creator. These are our natural laws. For another example — how the deer came to be SMÍEŦ. The story of how deer came takes place at what we now know as Fulford Harbour. There used to be a large village there.
There was a young man who didn’t want to be changed from a person. He said: “If the Creator comes around here, I’m going to shoot him with this arrow and slice him with this knife, which was made of a mussel shell. The young man had been sent to be raised by his grandparents so he could learn the values of how to live.
He didn’t listen to his grandparents, though. Whatever he was taught, he would say, “I already knew that,” just like teenagers today, who have their own mind and want to do things their own way. The Creator heard this and paddled over to Fulford Harbour in his canoe. The Creator called the young man’s name and asked, “What are you working on today?” to which the young man replied: “I’m making my own arrow points so when the Creator comes, I’m going to kill him.” The Creator said, “Give that to me right now,” and it wasn’t in a gentle way.
He suspended the two arrows in front of the young man’s face, and that’s when the young man realized who he was talking to, because not everyone can do that. The Creator said: “It’s wrong to kill anything just for the sake of killing. Now you’ll be the hunted one. I will give you big ears so you can listen.” With that, the Creator shoved the arrows down the young man, and they became the deer legs. After that, the deer tried to run away, but the creator said: “Wait.” He called him back and gave him the horns.
So when we speak of deer, we’re reminded of the law to listen to the teachings regarding killing. The story and the teaching give us the laws that tell us how to behave when we go hunting for food. Before you go out, you prepare. We prepare. We fast and pray. You wash yourself in a cold stream with certain plants. You sacrifice yourself a bit, because you’re going to eat him, grandson, today.
We say a prayer. Grandson, cross my path today. Take pity on us so we can feed ourselves and our families. The prayer works. I’ve used it myself, and it works. It’s a natural law in how we should live and interact with the animals. We have to respect them. It’s not a sport. It’s for survival.
When our people kill the deer, we hold up the blood and thank the Creator.
We take the entrails and find a place that a deer would like to sleep, with its back along a tree, for example, and we bury the innards there. We use all of the deer — the meat to eat. We make clothing and rattles, and whatever is not used is to be buried and not left laying around.
There are so many stories. I’ll tell you another one about ĆIYE, the Steller’s jay. ĆIYE was a hard-working lady. One day she was filling her basket with blueberries. ĆIYE was picking so much that her baskets were getting heavy and her hands were getting blue. She was planning on making cakes with berries, where you squash them and put them out in the sun so you can eat them later. ĆIYE was so grateful for the abundance of blueberries that she prayed in thanks.
The Creator then appeared as a human, and he said to her: “Hard work is good. Ambition is good. Gratitude is good. Thinking of your future is good. I want you to be remembered, so I will make you the colour of your hands.” The Creator then turned ĆIYE into the Steller’s jay. To this day, she still says her name: ĆIYE, ĆIYE.
This story and the others teach us the way of living in the natural world. These are still our relatives. They are our stories, our way of life. This was what was interrupted. Our people lived in peace and harmony with nature and respect for the land. We even have stories of the wind. We’re sharing them so people know them. We have sacred names so W̱SÁNEĆ people can interact with nature.
We were born into these beliefs, the stories of the sacred times when things could be changed. The Creator hasn’t gone away just because Europeans live here too. What we want is for our people to understand that our relationship with the natural world is not monetary; it’s sacred. We want people to respect that. That’s why we have this story, the story of when people forgot to follow the natural laws.
The Creator brought a flood to the whole world. Our people lived through it and experienced it and knew it was coming. We prepared a long cedar rope. We were told to gather our possessions and put them in the canoes. The tide started rising, and it kept rising all the way to the top of LÁU,WELNEW mountain.
Our people went in our canoes. We tied our long cedar rope to an arbutus tree at the top of the mountain, and we tied our canoes together, side by side. The tide kept rising, and the mountain went underwater, and we were afraid. We were praying to survive.
Finally, a raven landed on the head of the canoe. At the time, our canoes had a wolf head on the front. The raven had a stick in its beak, and someone said: “I think he’s trying to tell us something.” We could see a mountaintop emerge in the distance. The water was going down. It kept going down, and so we untied the rope and thanked the tree. To this day, we don’t burn arbutus trees in our fires. We gathered that long rope and gave our thanks for surviving.
There was a lightning bolt that went into a cave, which had a message for an Elder. “You won’t be punished by flood again. Next time it’s fire.” This is why we are so determined. This is why we are called the people of the emerging land, and this happened 10,000 years ago or more.
I believe the B.C. fires are just the beginning. I see what’s happening in Australia, and that’s what I think of, because the people have forgotten how to live on the land. Our original law says that what you do in life will return to you. If you do good when you are young, it will come back to you when you are old. If you do wrong, it comes back to you or your loved ones. Those are the words of my uncle, J,SIṈTEN.
I think as we debate and have this conversation about the Wildlife Amendment Act, Bill 14, and we’re talking about the wisdom that Indigenous people can share with us all in this House, with all British Columbians, it’s important that we do it with sensitivity. It’s important that we do it with the respect that it deserves.
I knew these stories. Even I went to the Saanich website in the hopes to find them written down in a way that could be delivered from our elders, because I didn’t want to disrespect these teachings. I wanted to be able to find a way to share these teachings about killing, which is what this Wildlife Amendment Act is ultimately about: everybody’s right to kill wildlife, the relationships that we have with the natural world and how we are to relate to those animals whose lives we are taking.