Marika Swan joins the Paddle for Wild Salmon.
I come from the Tla-o-qui-aht nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Our territory is nestled between the mountains and the open ocean, a watershed in a lush temperate rainforest with a diverse community of life. The stories passed down to us explain the role we have in maintaining the fine balance between all living things.
The blood in the veins of our land has always been the salmon. Its yearly heartbeat feeds everything from the bears and wolves to our big cedar trees. We closely monitored our salmon runs with complex weir systems, skillfully mixed our stocks, and never took more than we needed to ensure their healthy return year after year.
However, there has been a huge disruption in passing down our natural laws and we need to acknowledge that our current way of life is degrading our vital relationship with our wild salmon. Where once foreign diseases decimated our own people, our salmon now face similar threats. We have allowed open-net fish farms into our waters, breeding grounds for sea lice and disease, infecting the wild salmon stocks that swim by.
Concerned about the decline in our salmon stocks, we set out with seven Tla-o-qui-aht paddlers in the canoe of our Ha’wilth Hiyoueah (hereditary Chief Ray Seitcher Jr) from Sydney to join the Paddle for Wild Salmon on Oct 23rd. Despite discouraging weather reports, we had an incredible paddle through the Gulf Islands. Canoes converged on the Musqueam’s traditional territory from many different communities.
We rested and shared songs with the other crews before paddling out together the next day into the City of Vancouver. Crowds of people and media gathered in the pouring rain to greet us at the shore before marching to the Cohen Commission, the public inquiry into the decline of wild salmon stocks in Fraser River.
Our paddlers came from very diverse backgrounds but we were joined by our desire to demonstrate our respect and commitment to the wild salmon. We are healing as a people, reassuming our roles as stewards and finding new ways to work in partnership with other communities on issues that affect us all.