When The Tide Goes Out

By: Elise Pullar

Imagine that your home is the Salish Sea. You can swim but have no eyes. You have a ridged white shell for protection. You have the power to turn an irritating piece of sand into a beautiful pearl. You are a clam… but no ordinary clam. You’ve grown up in a carefully tended garden and one day, when you are older, you will be chosen for harvest.

This year, us Redfishies connected with Parks Canada employees Ali and Sky, to take part in clam garden restoration on Russel Island, within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. We worked together to collect large stones from the shore and place them onto a wall above the low tide line. This wall allows for sediment to collect behind it, creating perfect clam habitat. Even in its early stages of restoration, this garden was teeming with life. Crabs, jellies and urchins are starting to call this place home. As we waded out to the garden wall, seaweed twisting between our toes, all I could think about were the people who once ate from these waters. It was amazing to learn that a barnacle scar from the original wall was dated and found to be at least 1,000 years old. This place holds inexplainable value and incredibly rich history. This place is and was sacred to local indigenous communities. This was not only their dinner table but their classroom, their gathering place and so much more.  Clam garden restoration has the potential support food sovereignty and return youth to the land. This is true education – intergenerational learning about the traditional harvest practices on the shores that their ancestors tended to.

We also got face-to-shell with the clams, digging deep into the shell hash and screamed out with joy when we discovered clam after clam.

A few years ago, everything I knew about clam gardens came from a classroom or a piece of literature. After working for Parks Canada in Vancouver, my knowledge of this practice grew. But nothing measures up to digging into the shore and grasping a Butter Clam in my hands for the first time. Russel Island is one of the many sites in the Gulf Islands where clam gardens are being restored. The revitalization of this practice has been led by Cowichan and Coast Salish working groups along with Parks Canada. The success of the project is directly related to these long-term relationships with local communities. For meaningful conservation action, there needs to be more time and more money put towards relationship building. Or, timelines need to be flexible in conservation in order to get the job done right, and not just on time.

This Redfish journey feels simultaneously scattered and continuous.  We learn, question, reflect and move along to new spaces. Somehow each experience links to the next. As I sit here looking out at Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island, the clam gardens of Russell Island flicker in my memory. Patricia Bay was historically a bountiful clam harvesting site but over the past 30 years red tide has made clams toxic and unsafe to harvest. Agricultural run-off, sewage and oil pollute these waters. The source of these pollutants needs to be addressed, so that all beings can safely swim in these waters. With a focus on restoration and relationship building across differences, I hope that one day, Patricia Bay will be a vibrant clam harvesting site as it once was.

The Table is Set

By: Christopher Peñuelas

For me the words conservation and restoration bring up a few different emotions. The first emotion that rises to the surface is a sense of happiness and hopefulness that stems from the idea that there are sets of people working to better the ecosystems around us. The problem arises when I try to think more deeply about the impacts of conservation and restoration. While both of these acts have the direct impact of bettering or improving an ecosystem, people rarely think about the impacts on the people that live in that space now and the people who have occupied that land since time immemorial. The negative effects of restoration and conservation can and do outweigh the positives many of the times. By focusing on preserving land, taking back land from people to create ecological systems, or altering ecological systems to best meet “perfection” in the eyes of the current system of power, conservation not only directly displaces people, but also indirectly displaces populations by destroying sources of food, medicine, or education.

The people that these projects tend to displace are the communities that hold less power and privilege in our settler-colonist society. In the case of North America and the Salish Sea in particular these communities are people of color and indigenous groups. These are the communities that are displaced because the people in power are generally white settler colonists who are feeding their projects through a colonial system.

This project as explained so nicely by Elise is a rare example of a project that breaks through this system. It works to not only restore a vital ecosystem but also to restore and return land to people that have been displaced by colonization. This project is based on the reconstruction of clam gardens which are classified as culturally significant food sources. These clam gardens that the Cowichan and Coast Salish groups constructed and managed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years were stolen and neglected during colonization. Having them returned to their people is a huge step in the continuing act that is reconciliation. The importance of Russell Island being inside the Gulf Islands National Preserve lies in the fact that the designation of preserve allows it to be co-managed by First Nations. This allows these First Nation groups to negotiate for more harvesting rights and to retake their land.

The reconstruction and returning of these clam gardens is only a small step in the long process of reconciliation and return of territory. There is a long way to go until people fully understand the impacts of conservation and restoration projects but there are people and places that show that this understanding can be reached.

As we travel on this ship that is Redfish we have spoken to so many amazing people that are doing the work needed to allow the greater public to understand these disparities. We will continue to meet and interact with even more amazing and inspirational people over the next few weeks. My hope is that this essay and others that cover this topic will help you all understand the work that people are doing and the change we hope to make in our futures.

Judith Lyn Arney and PEPAḴIYE Ashley Cooper share a meal of BBQ clams at SṈIDȻEȽ (pronounced ‘sneed-kwith’), a central village site for the Saanich Peoples and a place of traditional clam harvesting.

The First Two Weeks: Redfish School of Change 2018!

By: Amanda Patt

Welcome to the blog for the Redfish School of Change 2018! This year Redfish is traveling with 16 students, 5 instructors around the lands and waters of the the heart of the Salish Sea. Traveling everywhere with us will also be Rudy Redfish, our many-storied, plastic fish mascot of great importance (pictured above).

The itinerary for Redfish features seven learning locations on both sides of the Canada/USA border: beginning online, Galiano Island, Salt Spring Island, the Saanich Peninsula, Anacortes and Padilla Bay, Orcas Island, and Sucia Island. Redfish is an ambitious blend of the academic work combined with diverse land-based education, work and volunteering experiences.


I’m Amanda. I would like to share with you some of my experience so far from the second week of Redfish 2018.


It feels a little unreal being here in person after having prepared for this program for months. I applied for this program back in February, organized the funding for this trip in April, found housing for part of the summer, started learning how to ride a bike in May, borrowed and bought camping gear in June and completed my pre-readings in late June. 

Even before the program started, I had so many hopes and fears, so much uncertainty about what Redfish would be like. I had a bit of nervousness about how physically intensive this program was going to be in terms of human-powered transportation (biking, kayaking, hiking etc.). I also was experiencing excitement and gratitude for the opportunity be able to participate in such an immersive, transformative, ecologically-progressive, community-oriented field program.

Online -Week One

Then we started the introductory online portion of Redfish. Our discussions ranged from practical logistical concerns such as gear lists, and travel arrangements, to whimsical-yet-critical thinking inspired by our readings on how to be brave, how to organize change, how to lead, how our social positionality affects our stories, how to create community, and much more. These readings gave rich material for us to problematize the stories told in a capitalistic, consumeristic, Westernized, stratified, nation-state worldview, and for how to re-story ourselves and our communities in hopeful, ecologically-sound, inclusive, sustainable, just, renewing ways.

Our daily assignments and discussion posts challenged us to go out of our comfort zones and problem solve in the moment. For instance, we conducted a recorded interview with a leader in our lives, with the technology we had with us at that moment, within the next 4 hours if possible.  It was a challenge to find a someone in my life who is a leader, who also happened to be free on a weekday mid-summer, as most people I had thought to ask were either working or vacationing at that moment.

Galiano Island -Week Two


Our home here on Galiano Island has been the Millard Learning Centre, which is owned and operated by the Galiano Conservancy Association.  This site has been a blessing for Redfish students and instructors alike, as it provides a perfect base to begin our in-person, within-the-landscape journey together. 

This site contains 188 acres of diverse ecosystems which interconnect with other conserved or restored habitats on Galiano Island. The site also features a beautiful solar-powered Learning Centre building, old farm cabins, innovative composting facilities including a composting toilet, a food forest, native plant restoration sites, bat and bird boxes, rockfish exclusion zone monitoring, and so much more.  My favorite thing about this Centre has been the organisms I’ve met here, from ochre stars, to old growth trees (Dougla fir, arbutus, cedar), from decorator crabs, to an osprey, from moon jellies to otters.  My favorite new abiotic landscape feature I learned about is known as tafoni, a circular pitting of sandstone rock caused by erosion due to salt crystals that have evaporated out of ocean water.


A small snapshot of the many things I’ve experienced in Redfish include: we have had deeply personal sharing circles, learned how to take rotations for planning and cooking meals, done on-site trail building, had introductions to all of our courses, talked about site safety and logistics, rowed the oars of replica Spanish wooden ships (thanks Eric!), learned about community maps and created some ourselves (thanks Ken!). As well, we have: made and drunk grand fir and Douglas fir tea (thanks Reed!), learned about the dangers of nettles, foxglove and thistle, explored our readings on First Nations Rights and Title, colonization, the power of being able to name things or places, have explored the intertidal zones to talk about the beings that live there and discussed the importance of empowerment, equal and ongoing relationships with the local First Nations. 


Of course, Redfish is an academic program, worth three University-level course credits. So, we have also had time to be introduced to the assignments that will be expected of us. This has felt a little overwhelming in the face of so very much occurring, and so very many things planned in a day. Many of us have been feeling some anxiety about when we would have time to read readings we had not yet gotten to, work on assignments, create group work, and connect with the technology that we have been mostly taking a break from. These assignments range from setting personalized learning goals for ourselves, to community mapping, to creating a blog post, to deepening our understanding of vocabulary terms, to thinking about what need we may be able to serve through our community action plan after Redfish.

In addition to all the other things happening, there was also time built into our tight schedule for “personal ecology”. This is meant to be time to do holistic self-care, whether that means taking a walk down to the beach, or a run in the forest, or create art under a tree, or writing a song on the bluffs; this is a time for each person to ground their body, mind, and spirit in the land.

On Friday morning, we will forgo oatmeal porridge and stewed fruit in favor of a quick breakfast, so that we may clean and pack up our presence from this site and travel to our next destination. We have been told that this too is part of the process, that traveling this landscape and this waterscape will allow our Redfish journey to be exactly what it should be. So, we’ll pack up our tents, and bicycles, and food store boxes, and Rudy and all of us, and we shall continue our journey on Salt Spring Island.

Thank you to Keith, Laurel, Haley, Heidi, Emily, Reid, and Ziggy for allowing the 2018 Redfish cohort to stay at Millard as we build this community, as we allow it to emerge into being.

Land Acknowledgement

So, this is a place of discomfort for me. Much of our curriculum has revolved around the continuing colonization and genocide that those in a socially privileged position as a Settler people perpetrate upon the on Stolen, Unceded territory of Indigenous peoples, whose territory it has been since time-immemorial. This colonization extends to more-than-human species and whole ecosystems as well. 

Though we heard numerous personal territory acknowledgements spoken, though I heard the names of the First Nations whose traditional territory I am in right now on Galiano Island, though we practiced reading aloud the names of these tribes, I remember none of these words as I write this now. It was necessary for me to lookup again that it is the Penelakut that is the First Nation group that the Galiano Conservancy Association works most closely with. Certainly though, there are other peoples who also have deep connection with these lands and these seas.

 First Nations, here in the Salish Sea, and many places around the world, have been successful at living in their landscapes. Settler peoples often have changed landscapes drastically to live in them, and these changes have been damaging.

This is what I am learning in Redfish. It is the start of a transformation of learning how to live in communities that challenge a cultural norm of being separated spiritually from knowing a land deeply. Hence, within the bounds possible, Redfish seeks to deepen our knowing of the land. 

It is but a drop in the ocean, even within the Seas of our own lives, but perhaps, if we learn one thing at a time, it can be the power of writing a new story for the Salish Sea, or the “Whulj” in Coast Salish: “the saltwater we know.” (Murphayo and Black, 2015).

Redfish School of Change has a new Blog!


Redfish has a blog! For the 2018 summer season, we are launching a new blog in order for students to document their experiences in the field. Our intention is to give Redfish students a public forum in which they can synthesize their insights, lessons, intentions, and stories. This will be a multimedia project: students can write essays, use photography, illustrations, video, or audio. Expect immersive storytelling told from the heart about the conversations that matter to these citizens of the Salish Sea.

Our goals will evolve as this project gets underway, but we begin with this:

  • give each student a platform from which to speak their passions, opinions, gleanings, and insights as they navigate the Redfish field course
  • build students’ portfolios of published multimedia work
  • provide family, friends, and community members a way to listen to, and begin a conversation with, each student author
  • create a community forum for the public to more meaningfully engage with the work that Redfish does in connecting students to communities in the Salish Sea.

Beginning June 29th, expect a new blog post each week from a different Redfish student. Thank you for joining us on this journey. Please follow this blog as we navigate the spaces and places of this precious bioregion, learning and living in community, creating positive social and ecological change in the Salish Sea. Onward!

-Joe Loviska, Operations Director and Redfish Instructor

May, 2018