National Energy Board hears First Nations testimony on Kinder Morgan pipeline

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Through the testimony, David Hamilton, NEB chair, nodded with sympathy, like a kindly grandfather. Phillip Davies tipped back his chair and arranged his water glasses. Alison Scott listened attentively, without expression.

Belinda Claxton gave testimony on the 13 Moons practices and medicinal plants of the Tsawout people. Her mother, the late Elsie Claxton, worked with ethno botanist Nancy Turner to preserve these cultural practices. “We used the universe as a giant clock,” Belinda Claxton said. “Our survival depended on the time of nature and our time being one. The tides fixed our daily activities. The moons that warned of winter storms told us to put our paddles away and stay on the land. We shared this calendar with the animals.”

Her brother, Earle Claxton, wrote a book called “The Saanich Year,” which she used to show how seasonal activities were correlated to the moons. She spoke of various plant medicines, such as the Ten Bark Medicine and the sea medicines which kept her people healthy.

Belinda Claxton noted that, before “the men of the cloth” came, ancestors were buried wherever they liked. They would pick a site and go there in their canoes. So many of the islands and islets have burial sites. “The men of the cloth requested that they be buried altogether,” she said.

Belinda Claxton is twelve years younger than her oldest sister, and she wonders why she was born so late. Now she realizes that it was so she could learn her language and medicinal knowledge from her mother. “I am here for a purpose,” Belinda Claxton said, “to teach my nieces and nephews about who we are.”

She concluded, “I speak for the grandchildren, the great grandchildren, the unborn, the nieces and nephews. I speak for yours as well as mine because they are the ones as going to have to be here and be the caretakers of the earth.”

The next oral historian, Nick Claxton has received his entire education on Saanich Territory, both in his traditional rights and responsibilities and at University of Victoria where he received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master’s degree in Indigenous governance. He is currently working on his Doctorate. His dissertation project is to define what is meant by the Douglas Treaty language that gives his people the right to “fish as formerly.” He still fishes and hunts throughout his homelands.

Nick Claxton stated that the tanker route bisects his island territory. “Those islands are our relatives,” he said. “Our word for islands means ‘relatives of the deep.’ The Creator made them to protect us and for us to protect.”

He told the story of a Saanich princess who met a young man on the beach. According to Saanich law, he came to live with her family when they married. During that time the salmon became scarce and the young man taught the people how to fish with reef nets. Then he said it was time to go to his family. They paddled away to a very deep spot and disappeared. “That is when we realized he was the salmon as a person,” Nick said. “The salmon are our relatives. We have a responsibility to them. This is our truth.”

He described the reef net fishery, which is unique to the Coast Salish. It is a stationary fishery with two main anchors and a lead that guides the salmon into the net. The traditional locations have the right combination of underwater topography, tidal flow and salmon runs. “All of these sites are directly adjacent to the proposed tanker route,” Nick Claxton said.

He showed a short video that described how the Tsawout are bringing this practice back. “The reef net fishery distinguished our people and brought us together as a nation,” he said. “It was wrongfully taken away by government fisheries about a century ago but a few elders still remember it.”

“It is labor intensive and takes a significant amount of time at the sites,” Nick Claxton said. “Reef net people are a hardworking people. This is how we governed ourselves.”

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