“The meaning that we find in ourselves is a gift that we can share.”
by Kelley Crider
There is a fundamental need for beings to want to be a part of shaping and participating in community, the need for solidarity and support. The idea of community is tricky though. With so many attributes and characteristics contributing to create a diverse collective, sometimes it is hard to know what is needed to build and maintain community.
With this, a question is formed, what is community and how is it created?
Communities are not limited to humans, there are ecosystems that serve other species and beings the same way community is meant to serve us. In my opinion, and what I have experienced throughout the journey of Redfish, is that a community is a group of individual beings who selflessly support, motivate, and act to create positivity. What an individual brings into the community is what helps give purpose and function to community.
We all look to community for something, whether that is a form of thoughts, taking action to make change, or for support and help, the possibilities of community are endless.
Sometimes we get lost in community, and lose our sense of identity when there is heavy emphasis on acting as a group. It is important to remember that we are still individuals, who make individual actions, and who have individual thoughts. Sometimes we need to step back, and figure out what we need, who we are, and what is important to us, because that’s what brought us into community in the first place. The meaning that we find in ourselves is a gift that we can share.
Community acts in different ways to different beings, and there is no right way to “do” community. Community is a diverse network. Community is always there to support and understand. Community is all of us.
July 21, 2018. The C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y song was written as a reflection of what community means to me, as well as how my perception of community has expanded over the course of the past month. This song would have never been created if it was not for the love and support of my Redfish community. Putting a song of my own on the internet is very scary, but my community holds me up to be brave and push myself to be the person I want to be. The Redfish community pushed me to explore and share my inner passion for creating tunes. The Salish Sea community inspired me as well by letting me scream my frustration of not finding the right lyrics on to them, the sun setting to let me know it’s time to put the ukulele away to sleep and for the birds, waves, insects and beyond who hummed along with the song. This song was an inkling of a tune and thought along Patricia Bay (North Saanich), it became a solidified tune in Shannon Point (Anacortes), an agglomeration of words at Mount Baker Farms (Orcas Island) and the song was wrapped up and shared along Shallow Bay (Sucia).
There are two recordings attached to this blog post. The first is a recording of just me singing the song, with a lot of nerves and love. The second version is me singing the song for the first time in front of my Redfish community. This version is still full of nerves and love, and a lot of giggles.
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.
Home. It is not a place to embody or a commodity with a monetary worth, but rather home is in our primordial connection to life on Earth. For a long time I have wondered where my home was and worried I would never find it without my family. But I’ve found family, in people from across all walks of life, with a collective accountability to what is possible. In constant transition I am awakening with a perception of home that is everywhere, with family all around me.
From the settler colonial perspective, home is property, ever-increasing capital, or natural resources. Physical and mental borders presume to make superficial ownership for humans, elevating us to the status of a single dominant species. The stormy sea of Western society evolved from the idea of home as a place, which is a destructive narrative for non human kinfolk. Joanna Macy describes the dominant worldview as the Industrial Growth Society, which thinks of Earth as merely “supply-house and sewer.” Through meaningful discussion, the Redfish School of Change is realizing the values of land in a context larger than our own lives, and decolonizing place.
As our group has traveled through the Salish Sea I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people from several First Nations, along with local settlers, about the land and their perception of home. In present day northern Saanich we heard from the elder Earl Claxton Jr of Tsawout territory, who spoke of his home in the ceded stories his people hold to the land and the autonomous efforts from surrounding communities acting to reclaim the land from settler society. For the Tsawout people, their central village site and the surrounding land and water were stolen by a historic brick factory. Before it was Tod Inlet, this place was known as SṈIDȻEȽ (pronounced “Sneed-kwith”), meaning Place of the Blue Grouse. By reintroducing native plant species and eelgrass environments, Earl and others are taking big steps that ground his people back to their ancestral roots and decolonize the land. Embedded in Tsawout culture is their reciprocal relationship with the land, and through their language, restoration, and stories passed down from ancestors, the Tsawout are cultivating a restored sense of home in SṈIDȻEȽ. One story Earl spoke of was the creation of the clam, which began from Tsawout families that were shy and didn’t want to be changed by the creator, so they hid in the sand. Out of respect the creator decided the family would grow into clams and live forever in the sand. This was a teaching for all Tsawout people and for that the clams were seen as ancestors and highly respected. For that reason clams contain significant meaning to their meals. This spoken story was followed by a fantastic meal of clams provided by Earl. For me this experience felt like an intimate love was shared with us; through the stories, teachings, and a tasty meal of clams we were guests to the Tsawout peoples’ land, and invited to live what it means to be at home in SṈIDȻEȽ.
The possibilities of home differ from being to being, but the perception is developed from all the relationships of our lives. Experience, stories, and creation autopoetically shape our lives for a home, acting like a shell that we always inhabit. New shells will continue to grow and molt into bigger and broader things, but home is always a part of something that resonates with us. Today my home is within the head scratches, community compassion, and all the awe that the beings of Redfish inspire in each other with tidal currents of love.
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.
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.