Marine vessels from seven South Island First Nations cruised into Victoria’s Inner Harbour to celebrate Indigenous ocean stewardship and show the value of recent government funding.
Hosted by the Indigenous Prosperity Centre, the event on Friday (June 9) served as a public awareness campaign about marine stewardship initiatives in which the South Island First Nations are actively engaged.
As various water crafts including driver vessels, spill response vessels, landing crafts and control boats cruised into the Inner Harbour, skippers introduced themselves and their nations before asking permission to come ashore.
A canoe from the First Nations tour company Songhee Explore, containing Songhee paddlers and Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, observed the ceremony from the water, tapping their paddles on the bottom of the canoe in respect as the vessels attached themselves to each other to form a flotilla.
“I just have so much pride to see all of our nations represented here and out there doing the work that our ancestry did and looking out for our waters,” Margaret Charlie, elected councillor from Songhees Nation told Black Press Media.
While this event was the first of its kind, Indigenous Prosperity Centre executive director Christina Clarke said it will not be the last.
“From the feelings of the nations doing this work together, there’s a desire to keep working together and keep collaborating,” she said.
For Chief Russ Chipps from Sc’ianew First Nations, advocating for proactive spill response teams and bases has a major ocean stewardship initiative in his community.
“About 10 years ago, we noticed our community was 72 hours away from spill response,” he said.
Chipps and members of his council began advocating for the Western Spill Marine Response Corporation to examine their bay, and the corporation then decided the East Sooke territory would be a natural location to build a new spill response base. Construction began in the summer of 2021, and Chipps said the base has now been active for roughly three months.
While ocean conservation and stewardship have always been important to Indigenous ways of life, the South Island First Nations only received federal and provincial funding to support their efforts within the last two years. Funding has since gone toward purchasing vessels and hiring crews.
“It means a great deal to me just to see how far we’ve come,” said Joe Seward from the Tsartlip First Nations. “Two years ago, we didn’t have all of the equipment necessary to look after the sea.”
This event was about more than acknowledging stewardship efforts for First Nations marine teams — with the four-year government programs set to expire within the next two years, Clarke highlighted that it was important to show the government that funds invested in Indigenous marine stewardship is money well-spent.
“We encourage all the government agencies that have funded these efforts to continue that funding,” she said. “Good things are happening and more good things will happen. We will keep looking for opportunities to leverage all of the talent and skills and innovation for climate action.”