Bev Sellars, former councillor and chief of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake and the former chair of First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining, wrote a powerful piece about the truth of mining in B.C.
“After so many broken promises and ignored pleas we can hope that positive statements coming from the current B.C. government - and even from some quarters of the mining sector - mean that this time it will be different. But words minus action equals zero…B.C. needs to ensure that no mining activities are approved without the free, prior, and informed consent of affected Indigenous communities. If the industry and province want to build trust and start reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, they should agree to a reform of these mineral tenure laws to bring them into the 21st century.”
by Arielle Houghton
Is it just me or is growing up, in and older about selective memory? It seems all too easy to forget; names, dates, even entire school semesters seem to disappear into the abyss of grey matter in my head. This is especially true when I'm busy. Life seems like it’s accelerating and most moments seem like one stepping stone to the next. Transitioning from university to my career is likely the culprit of all this rushing. Juggling school, work, volunteering and attempting to sustain social networks keeps me constantly on the go. Of course, only the most pertinent information makes it to the top of mind.
That’s just one of the reasons I’m taking a 7 week road trip around B.C.; so I can take some time to reflect on my life up until this point in time. It never ceases to amaze me when entire memories fade from consciousness. When I was asked to write my salmon story I was left a bit dumbfounded. “My salmon story?” I thought, “What relationship do I have to salmon?” Despite the immediate disbelief, my history is, in fact, coloured with memories of these unique red and green fish.
As I reflected, those childhood memories rushed back. However no memories are quite as vivid as those that revolve around food.
Every year, we would go on a family trip to Cowichan River. It was one of the best trips of the year. We would fill up out inner tubes and float down the river, swim in the icy cold waters and search for sunken treasures under the big grey river rocks. We would wade down the creeks and streams searching for crayfish - kitchen tongs and buckets in hand - and every year we would eat my stepmother's famous cedar plank salmon. This was the Cowichan river cabin family tradition.
I remember my step mom would take the bright pink salmon cutlets and lay them on freshly cut cedar planks. She would splash the salmon with herbs and maple syrup producing a candied flavour that would blend with the cedar as the flames of the grill baked them together. This process offered a pungent sweet and smoky scent that would permeate the summer air every time the iron lid would open. And then, we would wait for what would seem like an eternity.
We would do anything to distract ourselves from the sensory euphoria that was wafting through the fresh air. We played tag, hide and seek, took a few swings at the bocce ball, we’d even humour my step brother’s brags of being able to do one hundred pushups. Of course, none of this compared to when the salmon would finally arrive on our dinner plates.
And yet, I wouldn’t pause to savour a bite. The entire meal would disappear in a matter of moments as my siblings and I gorged on the meat we anticipated for so long. I remember how my step mother would roll her eyes, “why do I even make the meal if you’re not going to enjoy it.” Oh but we would enjoy it. For those few moments, when the food filled our mouths and our faces would balloon like blowfish. In that moment we would be satisfied.
It’s remarkable, isn't it? How could this entire family tradition have disappeared from my recollection? Was it because the salmon arrived on my plate, as easily as it disappeared? Was it because I wouldn’t savour the moment when my longing for the salmon dinner was finally satiated? Or is it simply because I’ve just been too busy for memories like this to remain relevant?
Whatever the reason, those memories have shaped me. In fact, they are part of the reason why I choose to work and live in Victoria and why every time I leave Victoria, I always feel at home when I come back.They’ve influenced my decision to work at an environmental non-profit that is fighting to defend the places that bring salmon to that Cowichan River picnic table and others just like it.
While I’ve been finishing my degree in entrepreneurship, volunteering and working on the weekends, those memories have remained, silently guiding my decisions and leading me to a new story. It’s part of what has shaped the decision to travel all around B.C. to help others bring these memories to the surface, and ask more simple questions like “what is your salmon story?”
I’m taking this trip because, now, as the salmon and their homes are at risk of being forgotten and disappearing, I wonder what memories lay hidden but active in influencing others in making important decisions in other parts of B.C. I wonder how the places where British Columbians have grown up, the food they’ve eaten and their stories have shaped their lives.
To do this, I’m going to drive 7,000 km around B.C. to ask locals their stories and experience other parts of our home in this province. You can follow my story as it forms at peopleofplace.ca.
by Celine Trojand and Mary Leighton
If you go online and look up #wildsalmon, your screen floods with pictures of happy people in Alaska pulling up fish. Open up a paper in B.C. and you’ll likely see a story focused on the controversial fish farms or declining stocks. What’s often missing is what we saw on a recent trip across B.C.’s northwest — thousands of people coming together every year for the salmon harvest and going to great lengths to conserve our wild salmon species. This summer, Mary and Celine set out to visit with communities from Telegraph Creek, to Terrace, to Prince George. We saw for ourselves what salmon mean to British Columbians.
About 30 kilometers west of Terrace, two fly fishing enthusiasts, Nathan and Troy, pull on their waders and grab buckets – not to cast their flies, but to collect fry and smolt trapped in a dried-up swamp next to the Exstew river. They scoop up 170 baby salmon from the overheated slough, carry them to the banks of the river in a bucket, and slowly add the cool river water until they can return the salmon to the river without shocking their little systems.
These members of the Steelhead Society set traps every single day to save hundreds of salmon from certain death. They drive the 60 kilometre round trip after their day jobs to do this, knowing that even with their heroic efforts, only 10 of every 100 samon they save may return. Troy gestures to his daughter and asks, “If at the end of the day all the salmon are gone, what’s she gonna say? ‘What did you do?’ I want her to be able to go out salmon fishing. I want my grandkids to be able to go out salmon fishing.”
Meanwhile, in the dry canyon of Telegraph Creek, a king salmon gets caught in the Ball family’s net. The sisters start yelling for a tote. We watch as they fill it with water, nudge the king inside, and sprint across the 100 meters of beach to shuttle the fish to cool waters and freedom.
The Tahltan have voluntarily given up catching kings this year on account of low numbers. While it’s affecting family harvests and consequently winter stores, everyone we talked to said that it was worth it. That they would do whatever it takes to conserve the species for years to come.
As a case in point, after a rock slide in the Tahltan River that blocked kings from heading up to spawn, the Tahltan collaborated with Department of Fisheries and Oceans to capture and transport the salmon above the slide via helicopter!
We saw the same commitment in Destinee, a young Nisga’a fisheries technician who takes pride in her work counting salmon on the Nass River. “When we’re out there on the river working with salmon,” she says, “I always make sure I’m doing my best job, because I know it comes back tenfold.”
Elsewhere on the Nass River, and on the and Skeena River, Gitxsan communities have moved to seine netting and fish wheels to reduce bycatch and better select which species they catch species. It’s a huge change from how they’ve been fishing for thousands of years.
2019 has been named the International Year of the Salmon, and here at Salmon Beyond Borders we’re getting excited to see salmon people unite to conserve and celebrate this persistent, wild, and beautiful creature, and to show the world what salmon mean to our lives and communities.
As Jacinda Mack says in the film Uprivers, “salmon is more than protein on a plate.” On our trip through British Columbia, we experienced that. Salmon is the reason people come together. Salmon is the connection between the past and the future. Salmon is life.
B.C. is a huge place and we only visited three river systems — the Stikine, the Skeena, and the Nass. Salmon run up the Thompson, the Fraser, the Kitimat, and the Campbell Rivers, and so many more. We’d love to hear about your own local efforts to conserve your salmon.
Share a story and tag us @salmonbeyondborders
by Sierra Harvey
If you are a person of the coast, you have a salmon story. I didn’t recognize mine until my third year at university.
In 1980, my step dad, as a young and over-energetic 19-year old was thrilled to be offered a position with a logging company straight out of high school. A great deal of money was locked up in old growth coastal timber of Clayoquot Sound, and companies offered new employees great financial incentives to perform this type of high-risk work. Little did he realize the effects of logging would leave on the watershed, reducing the stabilization capacity of stream banks, removing key shading to regulate water temperatures and saturation abilities, resulting in increased runoff and flooding. The effects are extremely detrimental to salmon. Salmon, like trees, are another key resource in these small communities. The fish that we love, are central to our diets, our lifestyle, and are affected by everything we do on land. My family is dependant on salmon to fill the freezers. Our 17ft fibreglass was a source of so much joy as a child.
These days, like most small logging towns in coastal British Columbia, my hometown of Ucluelet, BC has shifted from resource extraction to tourism.
Now in Victoria, I study geography and restoration. Geography is an exploration of the possibilities and capacities of nature, and the story of human interactions with the land and sea. A central component of geography and restoration is conservation. My interest was seeded in my first year by Phillip Dearden, who sheds light on the big, gnarly, and obvious (when you look for them) problems in society and resource management in his Geography 101 course. Already filled with a desire to be outdoors and exploring, geography grounded my thought processes and guided my passion for coastal conservation in B.C.
Last summer I had my own experience working in Clayoquot Sound. Now thirty years after the demise of logging in the biosphere, I worked in the same watershed that is home to spawning Chinook, Coho and Chum salmon, and the same one my step-dad logged many moons ago.
My time with Central Westcoast Forest Society was both humbling and motivating. I had the opportunity to work with an incredibly hard working organization on salmon habitat restoration. I spent my time directly in the rivers and estuaries, working to bring these ecosystems back to the healthy state they were in prior to logging.
Considering the connections between salmon and the make-up of terrestrial ecosystems is key to ensuring that these systems remain healthy and functioning for the long term. Humans effect on salmon populations is unlike any other predator. My passion, combined with my growing knowledge of salmon ecosystems, led me to Salmon Beyond Borders’ work, where I can focus my efforts on policy related to transboundary rivers. The rivers of Northern BC and Alaska are dear to my heart and I am passionate about making as many waves as I can in this time.
A salmon story is always full circle. My family’s history on the coast is lengthy and has fostered who I am today. I grew up on the fresh fish that we caught and smoked; camped in archipelagos; and spent weekends exploring the watershed. It seems anomalous to even consider a world where this kind of life is not possible. Like the life cycle of a salmon, beginning in a single river and returning to that same river, my salmon story will always be a part of me and whether I realize it or not, and the decisions I have made in life are made with these stories in mind.
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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