Can We Save the Fraser River?
Can We Become Stewards for the land again?
Where I’m from there is a deep pride in our rivers and waterways. Stó꞉lō is the Halqemeylem word for "river", and as such we are the people of the river. We hold this as a symbol of pride, and for good reason. When I look at the Fraser from Chilliwack mountain, I see so many different ecosystems that are reliant on the river. It is breathtaking. Within that one area you have fish, bugs, otters and ducks, bears, coyotes, deer and trees. A scientific expert will spend their whole career understanding just one piece of this ecosystem.
There is so much to try to understand about our relationship with this waterway. On one level, I want to understand this 10,000 year old relationship we have with the Fraser River as Indigenous people. On the other hand, I want to understand how we have harmed the river by treating it like a resource for the past 100 years.
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Western culture, and capitalism are imperfect. Individuals like Joel Bakan point out that corporations have legal personhood but lack a soul. In this way, he argues that they are psychopathic. Western culture places humans at the top of the hierarchy, suggesting that those at the bottom - matter less. This has led to corporations destroying ecosystems for short-term gains. Paul van Westendorp pointed out that farmers were unwilling to leave some crops untouched for bumblebees to live on and feed from. Erin Ryan pointed out that rat poison science hasn’t advanced in years because we don’t care about how they are treated. However, she further points out that other animals eat those poisoned rats and the consequences can be far reaching.
In steep contrast to this philosophy, Indigenous people hold dear a sense of connectedness which leads to a sense of humility. We in the Fraser Valley say “all my relations” as a way of honouring and recognizing our kin. This kin includes the winged, the four-legged fur bearing, plant people, root peole and the ones that swim. In the origin story by Sts’ailes we are considered the weakest and needed the most help to survive. In contrast many Christians and scientists believe that they are at the top of the ‘food chain’. The origin story found in Sts’ailes First Nation’s reconciliation agreement can be read below:
The Origin Story
Before the world was here, the Sun and Moon fell in love; They sent their emotions and feelings towards each other and where those feelings met was where the world was created.
In the beginning, the world was covered with water and through time and evolution some beings took different shape and form:
Some became the winged;
Some became the four-legged fur bearing;
Some became the plant people and root people;
Some became the ones that swim in the rivers and oceans;
And some became the humans.
Early in time, we, the humans, were the weakest, And needed the most help to survive.
All our relations felt sorry for us; they took pity on us. An agreement was made where they agreed to give themselves to us, for:
Food, Shelter, Clothing, Utensils, and Medicine.
The only thing they asked for in return was to:
Be respected; Be remembered;
Only take what we need;
Share with those that are less fortunate;
and To not gather or harvest at certain times and places to allow them to reproduce.
Before we gather, harvest or hunt, we say a prayer of forgiveness and a prayer of thanks to “All Our Relations” for taking their life to feed our family, we commit to use everything, and we will share with those that are less fortunate.
In honouring this sacred agreement, we are the Stewards of the Land, Environment, the Winged, the Four-legged, the Plants, and the Ones that Swim in the rivers and oceans.
Today, there are innumerable challenges facing our rivers and waterways. Overfishing, fish farms, ATV’s, pollution, developments, farming, and hotter temperatures - just to name a few. All of this results in lower fish populations, and less resources for plants, animals and humans. That is why I was eager to sit down with Marvin Rosenau. He is a biologist and expert in what is called ‘the Heart of the Fraser’, which spans from Mission to Hope, BC.
Marvin and I sat down to discuss the creation of the Vedder River, the destruction of the Fraser River, fish populations in British Columbia, and what if anything can be done to save these populations. The threats are very, very real. We have messed with incredibly complex ecosystems for years, and only now are we starting to see and understand the consequences.
We have to promote being a steward for these lands again and there are tons of great organizations working to do this like Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance, the WealthWater Project, the Healthy Waters Program through Raincoast Conservation and so many more working to repair the harms. We discuss all these issues and more in the full interview.