by Jaime Andrews and Kassidy Kelly
July 2, 2018. Greetings readers!
This is Kassidy and Jamie writing to you from Salt Spring Island, where we are hosted by activist and community leader, Joe Akerman. We had the privilege of interviewing Joe to gain insight on his story of the land we are staying on. He knows this place as XWAAQW’UM, a place that is the traditional territory of his ancestors; a place he continues to steward for future generations.
During our stay, we ventured by bicycle down to what is known in the settler community as Burgoyne Bay, which is also part of XWAAQW’UM territory. There, Joe welcomed us and gave us some history about the land, which used to have several longhouses along its shores – a stark contrast to the in-filled shoreline and houseboats on the bay that we experienced. We had the opportunity to take some alone time to venture into the forest that rests at the base of Mount Maxwell. Splitting off from the rest of the group, each student sat in a place embraced by trees, grasses, hedges, fauna friends and ocean waters. We sat in solitude and were united by the energy that pulsed throughout that land. An energy that became clear as we learned about the deep history of this cultural landscape.
At lunchtime, we ventured down to the welcome poles (the only indigenous installments of the area) on the shores of the bay where we sat in a circle joined by activists Briony Penn, Terry Buman, as well as our host Joe Akerman. They spoke about the history of the area and the activism that has surrounded it, including the community rally around preventing the land from being “stripped and flipped” for clearcutting and development – an activism effort that has helped define Salt Spring to the public eye. Now, the land is co-governed by BC Parks and the Cowichan Band, and is a popular recreation area.
Audio 1: Joe Akerman’s thoughts on the activism surrounding the XWAAQW’UM logging proposal by the Texada Land Corporation.
Joe also spoke about the story of Grace Islet, a small ¾ of an acre landmass off the coast from Ganges Harbour in Salt Spring. The site is highly significant for the Coast Salish as it was used as a burial site until 1913 when it was bought by private ownership. In 2014, the landowner decided they were going to develop the property, which became highly controversial as this site was host to multiple burial cairns. In the end, the homeowner was paid $5.45 million by the provincial government on the basis of “the loss of future enjoyment of land.”
Audio 2: Joe Akerman speaking about the fight to protect Grace Islet Coast Salish burial grounds from development.
In speaking with Briony, Terry and Joe, we were transported into the world of environmental activism, which is often in conflict with large corporations set on exploiting the land for their own financial gain. These corporations, as well as private investors, are often positioned advantageously by the policies that are enforced by regulatory bodies backed by our governments. We were inspired by their words which instilled the notion that “direct action backed up by good science, good policy, and good community —that’s what works.”
Furthermore, Briony stressed the importance of political literacy in approaching direct action from a grand scale. That is, it is not enough to simply know something is wrong. We must also understand the political, social, and scientific backgrounds that inform the issue. She noted that “if you are not politically literate, you will be spinning your wheels.” She clarified that if activists don’t fully understand the issue(s) they are fighting for from these multiple scales, they are bound to experience frustration, as their actions may not have the impact they desire. That being said, making an impact also happens in simpler ways —everyone has their own realities and limitations in knowledge, time and ability, and supporting change can be something as simple as bringing muffins to the rally (shout out to Ellie).
In this next interview clip, Joe highlights some of his frustrations with government entities and how their visions don’t always align with community values. Their decisions tend to support the current system structure, which has continued to demonstrate disregard for indigenous communities, while maintaining a seat of power.
Audio 3: Joe Akerman on the politics surrounding the processes of creating change.
In speaking with Joe about his future visions for XWAAQW’UM, we saw a distinct twinkle in his eye. It is apparent that he cares deeply for this land and the community it hosts. It shows in the work he is undertaking, in the values he embodies, and in the dreams he has for this place. He dreams about restoring the longhouses to the shores of the bay, installing a native plant nursery and promoting local food production, building an education center, a vessel and a dock, installing interpretive signage, and bringing youth and elders together in a space of cultural revitalization.
Thank you readers, thank you friends, and thank you family for all your support in making this experience a reality for all of us Redfishies.
Thank you, Joe, for hosting us on your land, for inspiring us all to build upon our own connections to land and community, for sharing your stories, your dreams, and giving us so much to think about moving forward up the stream that is the Redfish School of Change. We really enjoyed our time with you in XWAAQW’UM, and we will carry this experience in our memories and in our hearts.
Jamie and Kassidy