Words by Ronnie Dean Harris aka Ostwelve
In 1912, construction of a railway along the Fraser River using explosives caused a massive rockslide that blocked the river at Hell's Gate. In between 1912-1914 the fishery on the Sto:lo was disrupted, the 1913 big run never went through, salmon stocks were permanently affected and have never recovered even though our ancestors worked to use baskets and buckets to try to CARRY the salmon over the slide by hand. During those years, the BC and Canadian governments enacted laws to prevent the Indigenous fishery from happening as they said it would affect the stocks. Meanwhile commercial fishing in the seas still happened. Many families on both sides of the slide starved. This was the trigger of the 1913-1916 Royal Commission by McKenna-McBride. Almost parallel in 1914, the dam on the Coquitlam River was completed, disallowing the 'Slakayanc' or 'young sockeye' that lived in the Kwikwetlem River to return to it's spawning grounds. That salmon is now extinct in the river but lives as a lake fish in Pitt Lake.
While seemingly unrelated to some...to me...these events have directly affected my life and the lives of my ancestors going back to those times and reside in my bloodstream. These removal processes were effective in how our people moved from Yale/Spuzzum down to Seabird Island and how some of our family left Kwikwetlem and moved to Sq'ewlets. In the 38 years I've been on this Earth, I've seen major shifts in the environment, the salmon fishery, the eulachon fishery, near extinction of the sturgeon, shifting of plants + berries we use to see now don't see in these lands anymore.
These industrial projects...this economic positioning...marketing of jobs + prosperity...are only possible when this colonial system has removed you from your lands and relationship with a sovereign food and economic system. Without removing you from your cultural understanding of land/water relationships...they can't sell us on jobs, comforts and conveniences created by dependency on the capitalist market of pop-culture commodities.
I wish I had all the answers. I wish I had the means to fix all problems at hand. But elders have told me that change is a process and not a product. The ancestors before me resisted, they stood up, they gathered, they collaborated, they fought, they starved, they worked hurt, they worked though abuse + trauma, they stood through the racist era of the first decades of this colonial occupation...and while not perfect....have handed down to us this bundle of ancient connection and responsibility.
There are MANY things I'd rather be doing than advocating against a pipeline. I see the problems with it. I see the economic positioning of the governments and corporations. I see the panic in people's posts, I see affects of rising prices, I see the struggle, I see the pain and I see the frustration. But without taking a stand for our rights, taking a stand for our lands, taking a stand for our waters and taking a stand for the salmon people that have sustained humans, animals and plants alike since TIME IMMEMORIAL...as well as fuelling with its protein the footing of this colonial outpost and then the confederation of this province and the once largest and most valuable fishery in the world....without taking a stand...the future loses it all. They will lose it all because we were unable to create the kinds of change we needed to give back to what has given us so much.
Every privilege you have today...is thanks to wild salmon and the habitats that sustain them. This government, this economy, this confederation, these industries, this pop-cultural branding, these corporations, this tourism industry, film industry, even the forestry industry....almost ESPECIALLY the forestry industry owe a MAJOR debt to the spirit of wild salmon and their ancient cycle...in which we have continually disrupted since contact.
I say since contact...because it was fine before then.
If you were connected...you would protect it.
Prove me wrong.