For Chief George Quocksister Jr, Laichwiltach, salmon is a big part of who he is. Quocksister hosted a rally this week to thank DFO minister Bernadette Jordan for standing by her decision to remove 18 fish farms.
“We’re here to thank Bernadette Jordan for getting all the fish farms out of the Discovery Islands, Gila’kasla,” Chief Quocksister said.
At the count of three, the crowd repeated the thanks, filling the air with joyful drums, rattles and cheers.
Indigenous leaders present were clear about what needs to happen next – the removal of all the fish farms in BC.
“We respectfully ask Bernadette Jordan to get all fish farms out of BC coastal waters – because they’re all doing the same harm as the ones in the Discovery Islands,” said Quocksister.
Chief Darren Blaney of Homalco was invited by hereditary Chief Quocksister to speak at the event. When salmon are moving through Discovery Islands, they are now safe from disease, sea lice, and pit lamping, he says.
However, it’s only a small part of their larger journey along the coast before they reach the open ocean. Their travels take them through areas still dense with fish farms, Blaney explains.
Eighteen fish farms have been removed, but there are another 130 continuing to impact herring, salmon, bears, orca – the web is full of connections in this bioregion.
Quocksister’s life has intimately been tied to the decline of salmon; he grew up fishing with his family. Once a commercial fisherman, he is now a defender to save wild salmon.
Participants travelled from Secwepemc, St’át’imc’, Chawathil, Skwah, Adams Lake, Chase, Tofino. Organizations included Canadian Orca Rescue Society, Wild Salmon Caravan, Wild Salmon Defenders, Clayoquot Action, Conservancy Hornby Island and Sea Shepherd.
Hereditary Chief and Secwepemc Elder Mike Arnouse travelled to the coast to use his voice on the significance of salmon as a keystone species. He shared stories at the gathering that illustrated the interconnection of everything.
“The story of salmon helps us with our own lives,” says Elder Arnouse. “It’s not only for food. When we go down to the river or ocean to catch a salmon, we prepare ourselves. We cleanse ourselves in our minds and hearts and bodies and spirit, before we go down to catch our first salmon. The Creator made salmon pure, so we make ourselves as pure as we can.”
“It’s the way things have been.”
“When we do catch our first salmon, we pick it up gently and we lift it up to the heavens, to the clouds and towards the Creator. And we give prayers of thanksgiving,” says Elder Arnouse.
He reminded the audience to be thankful for the salmon – that have held families together and connected communities and nations.
Salmon vital to survival
Elder Arnouse explains the full impact of the salmon decline, based on Indigenous lived experience.
“The white man has a word – genocide, because it’s our food. If you kill the salmon, in the end, it would be like killing us, our people – like what they did to the buffaloes on the prairies.”
“They try to make us become dependent on fish farms. And all of these salmon farms are killing many, many other salmon because they put a lot of these pens right in the path of the little [wild salmon] smolts. So the salmon in the pens eat these smolts, you know. So they killed millions of salmon – before they even begin to grow.”
“It takes away part of our ways of life. And then somebody else controls our people and nature, and interferes with that.”
Charles Billy is Xaxlip, part of the St’át’imc’ Nation, travelling from Lil’wat to attend. He sang, drummed, and danced a salmon dance. To him, the matter is one of following the cycles of nature as laws.
“The Creator told us to fish when there are fish,” he says, noting “and give thanks, at least acknowledge the salmon. Today not many are fishing for food, and even fewer are giving thanks.”
“Everything that is happening is because they don’t listen to what we were supposed to be doing in the first place,” reminds Billy.
Odette Auger, Sagamok Anishnawbek, is a guest on Klahoose, Homalco, Tla’amin territories. She works with IndigenEYEZ, has written and produced for First People’s Cultural Council and Cortes Radio. Her journalism can be found at Watershed Sentinel, IndigiNews, the Discourse, APTN, and the Toronto Star, among other places.