PORT McNEILL—Randy Bell of Alert Bay kicked off the 2014 schedule of the Speaker’s Corner series last week with both a cautionary tale and a plea for cooperation to preserve the environment and its bounty for future generations.
Bell spoke to a small audience at St. John Gualbert Church last Thursday night in the latest in the series of public discussions, started last year to promote the spiritual and economic well-being of the North Island’s communities.
Bell’s presentation, which included a slideshow of photos showing seine fishing by an Alert Bay crew in North Island waters, was centred on salmon and its place in First Nations culture in B.C.
But he ranged far afield, tying together environmental, socioeconomic and political factors that will steer the future for residents both locally and beyond.
“We realize the only way we can sustain anything is by working with all communities,” Bell said. “We all have a vested economic interest, but it seems everything leads to economics and the environment pays for everything.
“But there’s no return to the environment.”
Bell painted a bleak picture of the loss of salmon as both a food source and ceremonial touchstone for local First Nations bands, citing a diminished local fishing fleet and the loss of salmon stocks in formerly rich grounds like the Nimpkish River.
A solution to the shortfall remains elusive due to the multitude of causes for the decline. And, he says, those ostensibly tasked with seeking the answers are often found to be asking the wrong questions.
“Sooner or later, we’ve got to ask the question, ‘How can we keep (the resource) here?,’” he said. “Instead, it’s ‘I want this much and you want that much.’ There’s never a common bond saying, ‘How can we make sure future generations have this?’”
Descended from a lineage that includes Alaska and B.C. Native and European ancestors, Bell began life on the North Island and later moved to Victoria, where he worked at the Royal British Columbia Museum. There, he was instrumental in changing the Aboriginal exhibits from backward-looking, historical set-pieces to interactive, living exhibits reflecting a thriving culture still tied to the land and the oceans of the B.C. coast.
Since returning to the North Island several years ago, Bell has devoted himself to strengthening those cultural ties through salmon, working to train new fishermen that can provide the community with both food for elders and fish for big house ceremonies.
All the while, making education a cornerstone for future generations.
“We’re trying to educate our young people to work with everyone,” he told the audience. “It’s all our problem; it’s not a First Nations problem and it’s not a non-First Nations problem. It’s everybody’s problem, because it will impact all of us down the road.”
Bell’s presentation was followed by the documentary film Salmon Confidential, a controversial but sobering look at the work of activist Alexandra Morton’s efforts to shine the light on salmon farming and the risks it imposes on wild stocks. Filmed and narrated by Twyla Roskovich, Salmon Confidential documents Morton’s efforts to tie disease in wild salmon to factory fish farms, and relies heavily on testimony from the Cohen Commission’s exploration of the 2009 Fraser River fishery collapse and Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s apparent attempt to muzzle its own scientists on fish-borne diseases.
The next Speaker’s Corner, scheduled for Feb. 27, will feature Morton and her discussion on her research and the need to protect wild salmon stocks.
Speaker’s Corner is an ongoing series of public discussions of ideas of importance to North Island residents. Speakers are scheduled monthly from September through May.