The Saanich Inlet is a special place. It has fed countless generations of my family it must be protected. I rose and spoke to the importance of this place to my family and to the thousands of people who live around the inlet.
The environmental degradation of the Saanich Inlet is personal. It’s a culturally and ecologically sensitive glacial fjord that has sustained countless generations of my ancestors. This is the place that I and my relatives belong to. As a boy, I worked the deck of my father’s fishing boat as visitors from around the world came to experience the once robust salmon fishery there. We worked under the dark shadow of the Bamberton cement plant. It was a heavy industrial site, spewing ash over the mountainside. By the 1980s, the inlet had succumbed to the pollution, and the fishers abandoned fishing almost altogether. Our shellfish beaches have been perpetually closed, herring and fowl harvests just a memory.
I hung my head in shame. Had I been the last generation of W̱JOȽEȽP to fish those waters? What about my children, my nieces and nephews? Quoting a 1996 study undertaken by the Provincial Ministry of the Environment, “The level of protection afforded to Saanich Inlet must be based on the most sensitive human or ecological use. The concept of assimilative capacity must not be viewed as a pollute-up-to level, but rather as a tool to effectively direct protection and remediation efforts.”
This summer my father bought a boat, and we returned to the inlet for the first time in 20 years. After years of limited industrial activity, the fish and wildlife are returning, and on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we went fishing. Just a few hundred metres from Bamberton, my nine-year-old nephew reeled in his first salmon, that beautiful coho netted by his grandfather.
Any proposals to return to the heavy industrialization of the Saanich Inlet will be met with fierce resistance. Clearly, this place needs to be treated for the environmental gem that it is. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.