There’s an old Tsleil-Waututh saying: “When the tide is out, the table is set.”
The table, however, has diminished in size, been pretty bare for a long time and what slim pickings there are compared with historical levels of bounty are often contaminated.
Between 1792 and 2020, according to three reports being released Thursday, Burrard Inlet lost 1,214 hectares of intertidal and subtidal areas to development and erosion. Not for a long time now could one canoe from Burrard Inlet to East Vancouver; Stanley Park long ago quit becoming an island at high tide.
The in-fill of eastern False Creek is the most glaring example the reports cite, but they also highlight huge intertidal habitats in the Capilano River estuary (80 per cent lost) and the Seymour-Lynn estuary (56 per cent gone). This shoreline loss has fundamental consequences to Burrard Inlet’s ecosystem and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation‘s ability to exercise constitutionally protected rights, one report reads.
“People think of Burrard Inlet as an industrial port, rather than the Tsleil-Waututh have as a place to harvest food, but it is still that to the Tsleil-Waututh,” said Spencer Taft, cumulative effects project manager for the Tsleil-Waututh.
“We needed to know what was here,” added Ernie George, the Tsleil-Waututh’s chief administrative officer who goes by the name of Bones, “so we can at least bring it back a little bit to that state.
“The shorelines are all covered in concrete now, but at one time they used to be beach.”
Departing from the wharf at the District of North Vancouver’s Cates Park, which is called Whey-ah-Wichen in Tsleil-Waututh (it means Faces the Wind), the Nation research vessel Say Nuth Khaw Yum (Two-Headed Serpent) headed out to look at Burrard Inlet’s shoreline earlier this week from a perspective most don’t get to see, not even from the two vehicle bridges or the SeaBus.
As the boat rocked gently while at rest in the swells midway between Downtown Vancouver and the Seaspan head office on the North Shore, Tsleil-Waututh member Gabriel George — who was born in the early 1970s — told of drinking water straight from the streams that empty into Burrard Inlet while he grew up.
“We caught trout, salmon,” said George, Tsleil-Waututh director of treaty, lands and resources. “That’s all disappeared.”
On the other hand, when Inlet traffic died down during COVID-19, George saw marine life return that he had never seen growing up, including orcas and herring. Even the number of eagles seemed to increase, he said.
The three reports were commissioned by the Tsleil-Waututh, the first two undertaken by the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of B.C., and the third by Anuradha Rao, a Vancouver-based Indigenous conservation biologist:
• Reconstructing the pre-contact shoreline of Burrard Inlet to quantify cumulative intertidal and subtidal area change from 1792-2020;
• Review of water quality data to understand the impacts of contamination on the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s safe-harvesting practices;
• Historical ecology in Burrard Inlet — summary of historic, oral history, ethnographic and traditional-use information.
The three together offer the first comprehensive look at the cumulative effects and habitat destruction since colonization that resource extraction, poor fishery practices, pollution and industrialization have had on Burrard Inlet, from Coal Harbour to Port Moody and Indian River.
“(Burrard Inlet) shoreline changes have degraded the ecosystem and affect (the Tsleil-Waututh) in innumerable ways, but non-Indigenous communities have not considered the impacts of total shoreline change in detail, and generally accept shoreline changes that have occurred since European contact as the ‘baseline’ condition of Burrard Inlet,” one report says.
The list of once-abundant food sources is long: Herring, smelt, oolichan, salmon, sturgeon, groundfish, clams, crab, whales and waterfowl.
“This review indicates that estimated current population abundances for focal species ranges from less than one per cent to 50 per cent of their mid-19th century and pre-contact levels,” another reads. “The historic trend of dramatic decrease in abundance is clear.
“It is absolutely certain that the marine ecology of the study area had become badly degraded by the middle of the 20th century, when Western scientific studies of the region began.”
And what seafood there is today has a good possibility of being contaminated, according to the third report, which found 700 contaminants in Burrard Inlet, of which about five dozen exceed benchmarks for marine water and/or sediment, and at least two dozen that “exceeded benchmarks protective of human consumption of seafood at rates relevant to coastal Indigenous people.”
Many of the contaminants are associated with the discharge of waste water, the report said.
Sharing the Burrard Inlet shoreline with the local Indigenous Nations are eight municipalities and the Port of Vancouver, as well as rail and road supply lines, and various levels of security such as the RCMP and municipal police forces, coast guard, and border services.
The port is the busiest in Canada (equal in size to the next five largest Canadian ports combined) and has plans to continue growing at 3.5 per cent a year.
As the Tsleil-Waututh helmsman piloted a reporter and photographer back to the wharf, among the many boats it passed was a big tug that Bones said can cause six-foot wakes from crest to trough; a little farther east a coast guard hovercraft was doing training drills near the estuary at the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area.
Arriving back at Cates Park, Michael George, Tsleil-Waututh’s cultural technical adviser, patiently explained to several people fishing illegally for crab off the dock — they were practically tripping over the sundry signs declaring in English and pictograms that crab fishing is prohibited — that they weren’t allowed to do so.
They ignored him, and what could he do but shrug his shoulders.
The Tsleil-Waututh took their name from the inlet, which they call Sleilwaut and think of as the womb of their people. They’re figuring out where to go from here, pondering what the next steps are, but there is always a sense of hope, those gathered on the boat said.
“What can we do? It’s overwhelming, right?” Gabriel George said. “That’s the thing, it’s so overwhelming, we can’t fix all this at once. But any little part we do adds to the whole and our goal eventually is to bring this back as close as we can to pre-colonial times.”
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Tsleil-Waututh measure Burrard Inlet degradation since contact Source link Tsleil-Waututh measure Burrard Inlet degradation since contact