Twenty-eight people took the ferry to Swartz Bay on March 23 to participate in the Conservancy’s W̱SÁNEĆ day long field trip. The day began with a land acknowledgement: “With gratitude, we respectfully acknowledge that we are gathering today on the unceded traditional territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ people who have cared for and lived on this land for millennia. We are grateful to them for looking after the rich resources and cultural teachings of this beautiful land. We come to our work today with open hearts and minds and look forward to working and learning together in a good way.”
After introductions all around, we boarded the community bus, where seven graduate-level political science students studying with UBC professor Dr. Yves Tiberghien joined us. Our bus driver Tim Gale navigated the bus to the trailhead on Wallace Road. From there we walked the forest path through Gowland Tod Park to SṈIDȻEȽ (snee/ kwidTH) on Tod Inlet, the first village site of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Our project was to spend a few hours with the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation staff, Judith Arney, Sarah Jim, and Kyle Clark, learning on the land and helping restore the native ecosystem. A note of thanks to the Campbell Bay Music Festival Society for sponsoring the workshop cost through a generous grant from Heritage BC.
Sarah, who is a W̱SÁNEĆ community member from Tseycum village, shared this story with us: SṈIDȻEȽ is a major place to the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. SṈIDȻEȽ means “Place of the Blue Grouse” in SENĆOŦEN. Blue grouse is an indicator species for the W̱SÁNEĆ; their presence told the people that food resources were abundant in its chosen habitat. Ancient shell middens from the long W̱SÁNEĆ occupation of SṈIDȻEȽ are found throughout the area, supporting the claim that the area was once a rich site for shellfish. The inlet was a perfect village site, offering a place of shelter from the cold winds of winter. The area was, and still is, a key area for edible and medicinal plants used by the Nation.
SṈIDȻEȽ is a very sacred place. The W̱SÁNEĆ connection to this place goes back to the very beginning of W̱SÁNEĆ history. Elder J’SINTEN (Dr. John Elliott, Tsartlip First Nation) tells the story of the very first W̱SÁNEĆ person named SLEMEW̱ (Rain) being placed here by XALS (the Creator). The W̱SÁNEĆ people lived at SṈIDĆEȽ for centuries until the 1600s, when a Haida raiding party came and burned the village here. Afterwards the survivors of this raid left to establish the two villages currently known as W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip) and SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout). The people would return to the SṈIDĆEȽ village site to collect shellfish and to hunt and gather food.
From 1904 to1913, the Portland Cement Company operated a limestone quarry in SṈIDȻEȽ, seriously impacting the lands and waters in this special place. Houses built for managerial staff were inhabited until the 1950s. In the 1970s local firefighters burned the derelict structures as a practice exercise for their crews. The ruins of these buildings can still be seen in the forests at SṈIDȻEȽ. The PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation works in collaboration with the Tsartlip Lands Committee, BC Parks, W̱SÁNEĆ knowledge keepers and specialists to guide the restoration of this site.
On the field trip, our Mayne Island crew had the opportunity to give back in a small way by helping to restore the native ecosystem at SṈIDȻEȽ. With gloves, boots, trowels, shovels, and tarps we walked to an area inundated with invasive blackberry and buttercup. In the same area were wild strawberry plants (DI,LEK IŁĆ; t’ileqw-ilhch) peeking through as well as ocean spray KÁŦEŁĆ, q’ey’t’th-alccj and nootka rose, KELKE IŁĆ; qel’eq-ilhch. Our job was to carefully remove the buttercup , revealing and giving light to the strawberries, as well as to dig out the blackberry by the roots leaving space for the Ocean Spray and other native plants. We all went to work with great gusto and a couple of hours later we had cleared patches of the ground. The offending blackberry and buttercup were collected on tarps and removed to a distant spot where the Foundation staff would make sure it was dealt with properly.
After a closing circle of reflection on our day’s work, we climbed aboard the bus and headed off for a hearty lunch and an hour of conversation at Floyd’s Diner in Brentwood Bay. Then it was off to visit artist Chaz TEMOSENG Elliot at the carving shed on West Saanich Road built by his father, master carver Charles TEMOSEN Elliott. It is in this carving shed that two welcome poles are being carved for the entrance to the Mayne Island Farmers Market.
Laid out in the studio was a display of many carved pieces: big story poles and animal figures still in process, carved and painted spindle whorls, halibut hooks, bailers, masks, maquettes of poles and more. Chaz shared stories of the pieces, his family ancestry and artistic tradition, the meaning of the carvings, and the use of the pieces. His mother, weaver Myrna Elliott, was also there, and shared how she learned Salish weaving. She explained her practice of hand spinning the wool, using natural dyes to color it, and the process of weaving on a traditional Salish loom. It was a very full and fascinating hour with Elliotts. I know I was amazed that Chaz was such an accomplished artist, a confident speaker, and responsible knowledge keeper at such a youthful age.
We boarded the ferry for home with a head full of Chaz‘s stories and W̱SÁNEĆ world view, feeling humbled but pleased that we had learned so much and had the opportunity to give a little back.
Jack Ryder, a horticulturist and field trip participant, commented, “It was the most enjoyable and interesting field trip I’ve ever been on. It was a very powerful, insightful and educational experience. Wonderful to meet others, learn and work together to restore the health of the native ecosystem. The natural landscape is beautiful and must have been an idyllic location for a village. A crumbling concrete chimney stack still stands amongst the Douglas firs and cedars. Quite a thought provoking and powerful juxtaposition that is a constant reminder of the work that’s still to be done. Grateful to the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation for all that they do.”