Feed on
  1. Menzies: Thank you. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are sitting here today on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Nations and to recognize these nations and the continuation of these nations even in the midst of the implantation of this city.

I am speaking here today, drawing upon a number of different backgrounds and experiences. I would like to say from the start that I’ve grown up in a fishing family on the north coast of British Columbia. I went off on the boat with my father when I was 11, for the first time working on the boat. We salmon-seined; when I was old enough we went halibut longlining. I worked on a herring seiner, and I pretty well worked all the way through until I was hired at UBC in 1996 as a faculty member in the then department of anthropology and sociology.

My family criss-crosses the colonial divide, being both Tsimshian and k’amksiwah, as is said in Sm’algyax, being both nonaboriginal and indigenous. In fact, I’ve just come home, back from being up in the north coast on the cause of a funeral — a memorial feast of Sm’ooygit Hale, the leading hereditary leader from the Kitkatla Nation.

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Today I work at UBC. I’m an associate professor of social anthropology in our newly formed department of anthropology. My work, in terms of the research and the related teaching I engage in, is focused on natural resource management, coastal communities and indigenous studies. I want to draw a little bit upon that to make some comments about the process and the issues that are in front of you, that you have been hearing people make presentations to you on for quite some time now.

I would also say that what’s motivated me to be here is that I had the privilege, the honour and the opportunity to observe your committee in action in Kitkatla this summer and then that afternoon again in Prince Rupert. It was partly through watching the proceedings and the responses — and the differences between the hearings at those two sites — that I actually wanted to come before you and make some comments.

There was for me, from my perspective as a researcher, something very interesting happening in terms of what you were being presented with and how the responses were emerging. I’ll come back to that point, but it’s what motivated me to actually speak. I didn’t think it appropriate for me to put myself on the list or to try to speak in either of those two meetings, given that my observations really relate to my social location as a university-based researcher more than they did as a north coast resident.

In Kitkatla you saw the technical presentations of the Chief and council. You saw the presentations of staff, and you also were witness to presentations of partner groups and a few community members speaking on the issues. They spoke to you in a room very similar to this. There was [a room] great [with] history there, a building that Sm’ooygit Hale and members of his generation who were members of what were called the Kitkatla Excelsiors Club actually built with their own labour and the hard work of the community. The building was recently reopened a couple of years ago, on December 4, 2004, at which point Sm’ooygit Hale addressed the community who gathered. So you were in a building that was of great importance, and the presentations that we were [given] were fairly technical in nature, by and large.


In Prince Rupert you were witness to the drama of indigeneity and the testimony to what I would call the adverse impact of law and policies that have gone awry. These are policies, I would argue, that are based upon what I would refer to as, first of all, the criminalization of aboriginal fishing practices, beginning in the 1880s with the Canadian Fisheries Act, which made the longstanding practices of first nations people criminal — not simply inappropriate, but criminal. The practices of husbandry, management and stewardship of the creeks — work which I have as an academic researched, studied and published on….

You will see there [reference to materials presented to the committee for their document collection] the introduction and afterword to an edited collection that has just come out from the Nebraska University Press that talks about some of these issues. It’s based upon these issues that I’ve actually worked on as a researcher and studied — the ongoing ecologically based management system that is actually extant today. It still exists, but it was criminalized.

You also see, I would say, in the drama that was presented to you, the continuation of colonial practice — that again the state arrives in the indigenous community. And while the good intention is in place, the state arrives and exerts its authority irrespective of the fact of first nations. [The committee arrives and sets itself up on indigenous law with it’s foreign institutions, rules and protocols ignoring the protocols of Gitxaała]. So there is the claim that the k’amksiwah, the people from away, have always made that their laws are the prominent laws. Then we see the legacy of colonialism and its practices that continue to this day.

Thirdly, what I would suggest to you that you also saw in these presentations was the effect, the legacy, of resource management practices that have been seriously misguided and have gone seriously astray. We’ve seen the shift of resource management over the course of the last hundred years from stream-based, locality-based management practices to offshore, interception fisheries, fisheries that you manage from a global stock as opposed to local stock, where the whole movement of management has been designed to ensure there is adequate supply of resource — and note the change in terminology — being provided to the canneries that are processing the fish.

Research that myself, that colleagues such as Dr. Michael Kew, now retired from the University of British Columbia, popularly represented in the book, Dead Reckoning by Terry Glavin…. But the academic basis of this research is well established. The harvesting of salmon prior to the commercial fishery was in an order of magnitude roughly equivalent to the commercial harvest. The impact over the last hundred years has been anything near to what the previous two to three millennia were like. So there is something occurring in the practice of management.

Just in a small aside, I’d like to say that I noted a peculiar expansion of the mouth of the Skeena River in the presentations that were made to you. What I mean by that is that the mouth of the Skeena River in many of the presentations seemed to include all the way out the Hecate Strait, but I leave it to my geography colleagues to determine [if a river mouth can really be said to stretch that far through salt water channels and passages].

I would also say that what I heard was what I’ve heard many times in the presentations: that [these changes are having] is a real and serious impact upon the coastal communities in British Columbia. Fishing has been changed. The regulatory mechanisms governing fisheries make it more and more difficult for small-scale operators to maintain a footing in the fishery.

This has been documented in a number of government reports, academic publications. The impact, of course, for people who feel they’ve been pushed up against the wall so many times already, is that the next thing that comes along is likely to be even worse. There’s an element of that in these presentations.

I want to switch briefly now to where I see important information that should be thought about when one considers the issue of aquaculture — how it might

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be put in place, how it might be regulated, how one might consider it. Part of that has to deal with the notion of traditional ecological knowledge. In other places it’s been called local ecological knowledge — the ways in which a grounded, place-based people manage and operate the resource.

I’ve handed out to you the introduction and the afterword to this edited collection. I have a copy of the full collection that I will give to the Chair of the committee for the committee’s use so that you can actually see all the papers that are in here. I also want to provide — because I’ll talk a little bit about the work that we’ve been doing in Kitkatla — some articles in the Canadian Journal of Native Education.

You may say: “Well, this is about education.” While some of it is about education, there’s one article that I’ll draw your attention to by Dr. Caroline Butler, looking at our research methodology but talking again about traditional ecological knowledge and its importance for management. I’ll just quickly bring this over to the Chair.


  1. Cantelon (Deputy Chair): Thank you. Dr. Menzies, you’re halfway through.
  2. Menzies: For more than 15 years I’ve done academic-based research through a variety of different locations on the north coast, and I’ve been engaged in doing research with the Kitkatla Nation in Kitkatla, or Lach Klan, and on the north coast for the last five years.

Over this period of time, either I or members of my research team — graduate students working with me, colleagues working with me…. Amongst us, we have interviewed practically every single person who is actively engaged in harvesting, processing of natural and customary resources — just about every person in the community, and some people we’ve interviewed and talked to numerous times. In addition to direct interviews, we’ve also observed, participated and had the opportunity to simply be there in the community.

As documented in a variety of our work and our ongoing research, I would suggest to you that there is a clear and demonstrable, ecologically sound, traditional ecological-knowledge approach to management that exists within this community and in other indigenous communities in this area.

Some of the material was documented in front of you there, but I would just point out in a couple of quick points that one of the basic principles ties to the notion of a need-based approach to harvesting and also a specific species-based harvesting practice. So there’s an interesting combination where harvesting is targeted toward need. I’m willing to entertain and discuss in the larger sense that need varies and is a socially defined concept, but there are some very clear socially defined notions of what need actually looks like. Then there’s also the notion of which harvesting is targeted and controlled in particular ways.

This management practice, even though it has been contained, controlled and disrupted by the establishment of a colonial state, is very much extant. It is in practice in today’s community. It’s this basis of ecological knowledge that lies at the core of many of the decisions the community makes. As we all know, community decisions are often fraught by disagreement, discussion, engagement, countering back and forward. Nonetheless, at the core of this is this principle, [first nations language spoken], which is, sort of, of being of one heart — the notion of which…. That principle is at the core of the resource management practices. I think that’s important to note.

There have, of course, been some problems with the operation of this system. There is what I’ve mentioned [as interference from the colonial state]-some of us may take issue with the terminology I use when I say “interference from the colonial state,” so one might suggest I use a different [phrase]. The development of a pluralistic contemporary nation-state on top of aboriginal lands has created difficulties for first nations peoples and other indigenous peoples to operate their societies as they have and to apply the principles of environment and justice and social organization that they would choose to if they had the authority to do so.

That actually brings me to the final point I have. Part of what is being looked at here, even though your technical discussion may well be on the science and the economics of the process, is that there is an actual question of sovereignty, a political question, in which first nations need under Canadian law [to be consulted and for an accommodation to be reached.  This stems from the legal fact that aboriginal rights and title exist].  Of course, it’s still to be determined how that might necessarily look, but the principle is that the first nations should be able to make their own decision, however wrong those sitting outside that circle might think it to be. What it requires is a nation-to-nation process, which is well understood by all of us sitting around this circle, but it’s also, I think, one that’s important even in the establishment of scientific environmental practices.


In conclusion, I’m not going to state my personal position on fish farms here, as that’s not really the point of what I have to say. What I have to say is that the right to make decisions to engage in aquaculture or not must be made within the context of first nations discussions within the customary practices, first nation to first nation, and from first nation to government — government-to-government negotiations and discussions. Ultimately, the way in which these processes need to be decided must, I think, be made in the knowledge that there is a practice and an ecology and a model of understanding the world that is specific to these locations.

With those words, I’d like to just say thank you for the opportunity to do this, to have this opportunity to speak to you. I know that you’ve had a very busy schedule with respect to this committee in terms of the places you’ve been and the divergent opinions and perspectives in information that you’ve been given.

What I’d like and hope to be able to leave you with is at least some of the commentary and reflections that I could share, given my particular position as a re-

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searcher who is engaged in doing academic research that’s peer-reviewed and is based upon a longstanding tradition of engagement within a community. Thank you.

  1. Austin (Chair): Thank you, Dr. Menzies. I’ll open the floor.
  2. Yap: Perhaps the answer may lie in the material and the book that you’ve given to us, but I’d like your perspective on the polarization that we’ve seen from a first nations perspective. In our travels we’ve heard passionate positions on both sides.

We were recently in Klemtu and had a very exciting ride up and ride back last week when the storm was coming through. In Klemtu there’s a community, as I’m sure you’re aware, that has really embraced aquaculture as a way to continue the historic traditional connection to fish, being that the wild fishery is not what it used to be. They’re very comfortable and they’re very proud of what they’re doing and where they’re going with it. They want to continue to do that.

Then you were in Prince Rupert, so you know what happened in Prince Rupert, where we had the other side. We had many voices that expressed the exact opposite. They want nothing to do with aquaculture. From your perspective, how should we reconcile these two polar positions?

  1. Menzies: One thing I’d say is that there is not one indigenous nation. There are very many. I have a colleague and friend who comes from the interior of the province who says that some of the differences between first nations are as profound as the differences within Europe or Asia between the different nations there. It’s a truism to say this, but I think that’s part of the issue. Perhaps you will not be able to reconcile those different positions and those different perspectives.

The other thing to point out is that different communities have had different histories of involvement in the resource economy. Whereas some communities might be more involved in industrial logging such as, for example, Kitsumkalum, others might have been involved in ranching, etc. — say, if you go around Douglas Lake.

If you go on the coast and the involvement in the commercial fisheries and then different approaches and adaptations, that different history of involvement leads to different positions and perspectives in the contemporary moment. So part of that is a history question. Part of it is, to a certain extent, [a political question].  This will be the task of the Legislature — to actually resolve some of those. Whether it’s a reconciliation in terms of different polar views, I don’t know.

Looking at these issues as a researcher, I think that part of what that requires, perhaps, is the capacity to bring people into a forum where they can communicate in a way in which they actually make sense — translate what they’re saying. I would say, as an observer listening to two different presentations between Kitkatla and Prince Rupert, that I actually felt I was hearing very much the same thing but being seen from slightly different angles.

Through the process in which an individual presents himself on this side of a table to speak to the voice of authority, and an audience in behind in which there is this performative act, in that context, it leads to, perhaps, the polarization or the making more explicit or the drawing apart of the perspectives, as opposed to sitting around in a circle where we make it clear that we understand what we’re talking about in the perspectives and the different varieties.

We may well use the same word but have very different understandings of that word, which, hence, leads to a real problem of communication.


  1. Cantelon (Deputy Chair): I think your perspective is very valuable to us, Dr. Menzies. Particularly, I think your comments regarding the decline or the changes in the fishery — not necessarily the decline in the fishery, but the decline of it as a localized industry as they move to bigger seiners…. A lot of what we heard is a lament, and as you rightly put it — I think you said — the next thing is something they don’t want. If there is uncertainty about it, the last thing you brought us wasn’t good.

Specifically, I’m interested in your involvement with Kitkatla. We certainly, as the Chair would recount for you, encountered the concepts of sovereignty quite directly when we first got there. We certainly got a good appreciation of that. But while we were in Kitkatla we heard a story that they want to move forward with fish farming. Then when we got to Prince Rupert, people who are members of that first nations band discredited what we had heard in Kitkatla, saying that they weren’t representative of the voice of the real people.

Having never been to Kitkatla before, who do I believe? You’ve been there.

  1. Menzies: Yes, that is a very difficult question to look at from the outside and try to make sense. It’s not for me to say who you believe or not believe, because that’s not my role. What I can say is that when I see the work and effort in the community, when I see through the interviews and observations and commentary and engagement with community elders, resource harvesters and practitioners — people who are processing the wild foods within the community in Kitkatla and Lax Kw’alaams — I see a real strong vitality in which you have divergent opinions but a common purpose.

That common purpose says: “We want to be able to continue harvesting our cockles, to be able to hunt deer and harvest seal, to have different seafoods and fish and seaweed, and to continue with these as part of our way of life. If economic development means signing agreements with ports, with energy companies, with fish farms, with transport firms, and if that can occur without harming our capacity to harvest, we’ll consider it.”

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My sense is that in their heart of hearts, people aren’t happy with that solution. If something goes wrong, they want out. I suppose my sense is that this is seen to be a way to facilitate continuing what people were doing while recognizing that there is great need within the community, not just in Kitkatla but in the community who reside in Prince Rupert. Levels of employment and engagement in paid employment are very, very poor. So there is this tension between economic need and that.

I know that doesn’t directly give you a sort of spreadsheet as to who to believe or who not to believe, because it’s not my place to do that. What I hope it says is that I think the intentions of the people who are working are very clear. Sm’ooygit Hale himself, who was engaged [as one of the] the initial signatories of this agreement, made very clear at numerous times and also in the negotiations that there was an environmental opt-out clause within that contract.

I suspect that a corporate lawyer may have a different sense of what that looks like than the community does.  I think it’s fair to say that just about everyone I have spoken to in the community understands that opt-out to mean that if the community members believe something is going wrong, that stops. As I say, I don’t know what the company thinks it means or what a corporate lawyer would think it means, but that’s the sense that I have.

  1. Cantelon (Deputy Chair): Bluntly put, you believe that first nations in whatever agreements need to be able to pull the plug, opt out and cancel it if they see that it’s detrimental to their traditional values of respecting the environment. Is that correct?
  2. Menzies: Yes.
  3. Cantelon (Deputy Chair): Again, going back to John Yap’s comments, I think we see that in Klemtu. They continually monitor it and are very sensitive. They want an economic base, but they also want to retain their traditional hunting, fishing, clamming and all of that as well.


My understanding is that in Kitkatla they had done considerable baseline studies, so they know what the ground zero is. If they move forward, they have a baseline against which to measure any environmental impacts. Then, of course, I presume they would be able to invoke the opt-out clause, which I think is critical.

I agree with your comments earlier, talking to the fact that you need to have a working relationship as opposed to a colonial relationship. I used that same phrase, actually, in describing our port authority in Nanaimo. I described them as a benevolent colonial power, which they didn’t appreciate, but that’s another story.

I think where it can work is where there is a true partnership where they gain economic benefit but maintain sustainability of their resource, and their opt-out clause is critical. I see you nodding. You would say that’s a fair…?

  1. Menzies: I think it’s important to have the capacity to retain power to decide within the community. I think that within the context of indigenous rights and the notion of sovereignty, to actually be able to carry out a traditional ecological knowledge practice, you need the power to be able to make those decisions.

An academic, a colleague at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote a book called Hunters and Bureaucrats very recently, looking at wildlife management in the Yukon. His basic conclusion from several years of research and close communication with first nations there as well as with wildlife guides, etc., is that without the actual capacity to make the decision, in terms of the first nation, the ability to enact and conduct through a traditional ecological knowledge practice was inhibited. The recognition of sovereignty needs to be made.

  1. Cantelon (Deputy Chair): Thank you. I’ll respect my own time limits here, Mr. Chair.
  2. Simpson: Thanks very much, Charles. I appreciate the insights. I guess the question I have comes back to this issue around sovereignty, which I think underlies much of what you spoke to us about. We have this situation that we face. We have the Kitkatla and the leadership of the Kitkatla wanting to move forward in a partnership or a relationship to establish aquaculture. We have pretty much all of the other first nations up the Skeena adamantly opposed — certainly from what they said to us.

In the discussion we clearly hear the Kitkatla telling us that this is their territory and that they expect us to respect their sovereignty over their territory and their right to make their own choices about these decisions, and I respect that. We hear the other first nations up the Skeena saying, “Respect our rights,” and that there is shared territory. That’s a discussion, as they tell us, between the first nations. That’s for them to have, not for me to have. That is the view that’s expressed to us by some of those nations, and also that the impacts of what the Kitkatla may choose to do will have impact on those nations up the Skeena in terms of the fish coming in and out.

We have a couple of choices. If we accept that and respect that, we can choose to make a decision out of Victoria that says we support the Kitkatla’s view or we support the view of the other first nations — yea or nay. The other option is that we can say: “This is a discussion that maybe isn’t ours to have.” Maybe it’s a discussion where we put the onus back on those first nations collectively to make that decision among themselves, probably in a different format than the one we’re sitting in today, a format where they have greater comfort and greater tradition.

My first question I ask you is: how do you think we should approach the question of these conflicting views and conflicting positions, both of which tell us

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they have traditional rights and sovereignty rights — which I accept — and that if we’re to respect those, we need to adopt a position that reflects their opinion?


  1. Menzies: Well, I would certainly think that an approach that would facilitate the development of consensus and agreement would be an important one.

I’ve had many opportunities to see, for example, government, business or universities come into the community, make a presentation, want something and want to do something, and very often miscommunication over language leads to a stop in a process. Clearly, I think an approach that looks at how to facilitate the emergence of consensus is a critical one.

One of the things in terms of the customary structure on the north coast — it’s a very strong principle — is that the actual political unit is the house group, which is a group of matrilineally related people with house leaders who have hereditary positions, who have the authority over their particular territory. Within the customary practices, it’s considered to be exceedingly inappropriate for a person from not just another house group but another village to say: “You can’t do that in your house territory.”

There’s a real dissonance — and this is part of the colonial structure — between the customary practice for resolving and dealing with issues and what one even says publicly — how the colonial state wants to have that. Part of the problem is that in the manifestation that you saw, very often how things are presented…. It’s really felt that within this explicit territory, this house group — of which there are, depending upon where you want to look, about a dozen or so, plus or minus two or three house group territories within Kitkatla…. It’s the house leaders who meet together with their councillors, who then inform and counsel the government representatives in terms of the band council.

Within that process, there’s a very careful movement to how one approaches telling somebody else not to do something, because it’s not seen to be appropriate. That’s difficult, because every first nation is going to have slightly different approaches to this. Oftentimes people will say: “Well, how am I expected to know?”

A good example is that the forest science program, which has just called for new proposals this fall, has made an effort to have people identify some connection to the first nations in their territory to try to link with and connect to them. Many of these researchers are people who don’t see that they have any connection with the first nations at all. But because of the way the process is developing, there’s been a decision made that they need to begin that process, to understand what the appropriate consultative process and protocol on the ground in that nation would be. It’s difficult, but there are ways of starting.

  1. Simpson: Just to follow up a bit. I accept that, but I get first nations leaders saying to me: “This really isn’t a question about whether the Kitkatla want to have pens in their turf or not. The question here is that when the salmon that are an inherent part of my culture come by and I truly believe as a first nations leader that those salmon are being put at risk by those farms — and whether or not they are is a scientific question — then this is no longer just the business of the Kitkatla.”
  2. Menzies: That would make perfect sense. One of the things I would say to you, though, is that you should take a look at and make sure you’re clear on the migratory paths of the salmon in relation to the particular site locations. Understand that there are a lot of local sockeye runs in the Banks Island and outer coastal area, where many of these sites are. Those are all firmly within Kitkatla territory. You have to look at the historic patterns of salmon.

I speak as a person who has been a commercial fisherman, and my family has. I was on the boats since the early ’70s.

Occasionally yes, sockeye salmon run through Ogden Channel, which is right by Kitkatla on the top end there. Occasionally you’ll have fisheries there. By and large, the path comes out of Dundas to Lax Kw’alaams territory, down to the top of Stephens and then in through Chatham Sound and up to the mouth of the Skeena River, which is actually a little bit closer to the land, in my sense.

Most fishermen would tell you where the mouth of the Skeena is. It’s not out at Lax Kw’alaams or Dophin Island or Edye Passage or Steele Rock. It’s closer to town — to Prince Rupert, to Port Ed.


You may have fisheries biologists who’ve done studies and can indicate the customary and usual migratory paths that the salmon take, but it would be very important to be clear on that. I only speak with the experience of a commercial fisherman, so I could be completely wrong about where the fish move and how they pass. But at least my understanding is that, by and large, the sockeye that you will encounter in Principe Channel, around Banks Island, Petrel Channel, Freeman Pass to the outside are local salmon running to the local creeks and streams that are within the customary territory of Kitkatla.

On the top end…. I don’t know. Of course, I guess it’s a disadvantage for those of you who don’t have this map in your head. Perhaps Gary and I are the only ones who really see this. Maybe, Robin, you have a sense.

  1. Cantelon (Deputy Chair): He’s from Kingsway. He doesn’t know either.
  2. Menzies: Sorry about that.

If you just imagine that there’s a range of islands out there. Part of the discussion has been that all the Skeena River salmon are running by these potential pens, and they’re not even in the water yet.

In terms of where the locations are, just a very basic empirical question would be: where do the fish run?

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Where do they normally run? What are the species of salmon that are running by there, more frequently or not? Then you can say whether they’re going to have an impact. I think that’s an important empirical question. You have to ask that question, and you have to look at it very carefully.

  1. Simpson: One last question, and then I’ll be done. I’ll ask you the question that I’ve asked a number of witnesses. There is a conflict here obviously, or a potential conflict depending on the position and the view that we take. Ultimately, if we come to needing to make a decision between what we think is the impact on the wild salmon — if we come to the position that there is a negative impact on the wild salmon — versus the question of the rights of the Kitkatla, when we know there is controversy here with all the other first nations, do we protect the wild salmon if we believe that they’re an impact, or do we defer to the Kitkatla?
  2. Menzies: Allow me to give you a politician’s answer. I think the question in its structure really has a number of difficulties and problems. First of all, you’ve agglomerated a whole range of runs and species of salmon into one — i.e., the wild salmon — which becomes the icon of the campaign that’s being run through the Skeena watershed. You have to ask yourself which piece of that you are talking about. How is it being measured in that respect?

If I were to say what my solution to this problem would be, I’d say: “Let’s actually go to the creeks.” Let’s take those watersheds that have been fished out, where the practices that have been made illegal have been removed, and let’s put them back in there.

I don’t know if anyone has ever had the opportunity to walk through one of the coastal watersheds out on Banks Island or any of the ones up around Dundas. But I know, Shane, that if you’ve actually seen these and seen the way in which [they have been shaped by human beings you will understand that ] these aren’t natural, pristine creeks. These are engineered terraformed waterways that, while people were allowed to and legally not prevented from engaging in, were very, very productive systems.

Work of Steve Langdon, who’s in that book; work of Jim McDonald, an anthropologist based at the University of Northern B.C.; and work that we’ve been doing in the territory would suggest that the actual quantity and availability of salmon, and the spread of salmon that happened when the industrial salmon fishery first began, were a direct result of indigenous activity in the creek systems. In fact, what they did was a Keynesian kind of thing to the fish streams, where the big dips were raised and the peaks were cut down. Many of the systems that weren’t productive were made productive through generations and generations of activity.

My preferred solution would be to say: “Go right to these creek and streams. Let’s put the investment, the money, the effort into revitalizing and bringing those back to where they were.” That ties into a cultural revitalization. It ties into an economic revitalization. And it’s good for everyone, not just aboriginal people, not just non-aboriginal people — for everyone.


For me, to a large extent — and I know it’s not the mandate of your particular committee — the real problem is that the fish farms are a red herring, to use a fish metaphor. The real issue here is that we need to maintain and provide for the health of our fisheries resources. The way we can do that best, I think, is to listen to all the words of the community elders and resource practitioners who are drawing upon generation upon generation of experience and knowledge.

I think that people up in the Bulkley River, for example, or the Bulkley Valley have an important impact because that’s a particular understanding, and they can see as the fish come by if there’s any impact or change in that.

That’s not really an answer to your question, but I think it’s where my heart lies. If we’re going to solve any of these kinds of problems, that’s where we need to be looking — in that direction.

  1. Simpson: That’s a political answer.
  2. Coons: Realizing the time, I’ll keep it brief. Thank you so much, Charles. I did manage to get a copy of the book. I’m looking forward to going through that, especially since in our travels we’ve heard a lot about traditional knowledge and bringing in, as you referred to it, TEK — traditional ecological knowledge. I’m looking forward to reading that and going through it.

Again, as far as where we’ve come in the last ten years…. We had fish farming, and then we had the salmon aquaculture review that came up with, I believe, 47 recommendations. That, in my mind, was supposed to push forward the concept of public participation, especially with first nations. It seems that ten years later we’re at a point where first nations are still in the dilemma of not having that input.

Did you have any comments as far as what’s happened in the last ten years?

  1. Menzies: Well, I think it’s a continuation of an ongoing story. I do a lot of work in educational materials as well. In terms of presenting aboriginal education and how to deal with it, it’s known. We know as a society what to do, but it doesn’t get done. There are all kinds of reasons and explanations about it, from individual to societal. But we know.

I think in terms of traditional ecological knowledge and the understanding of the resources, it’s actually there, and it’s pretty clear what needs to be done and how. We don’t, and we don’t listen. Perhaps it’s as simple as that to do so means that for a lot of people, they have to relinquish authority and power. That could very well be. I don’t know if there’s ever been a situation in human society where people with power willingly and wilfully give it up.

That, I think, is at the crux of it. When it comes to TEK, and you will hear a lot…. I do make a distinction

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in the little chapter that I’ve written about pine mushrooms, not fish. You have to identify and distinguish the people who are [actively engaged in harvesting from those who are not]. There is rhetoric around TEK. There is the political phraseology of TEK, and then there’s the practice of TEK. Very often you’ll confront a difference.

Everyone can talk about respect and reciprocity. How is that operationalized? How’s that put into practice? The people who can tell you how respect and reciprocity are operationalized are the people who are actively engaged in harvesting. That’s a dilemma. As a researcher, that’s one of the things I look at. I need to know not just, “Can you tell me about TEK?” but: “Are you actually engaged in harvesting? Have you engaged in harvesting?” That tells me something right there.

I think as a society, it’s hard. How does a society relinquish certain elements of power? It’s like democracy. Democracy involves trust that the people will be good and fair-thinking, and you take a risk in trusting people. It’s always this balance between trust and risk. The risk is that they might not respect the process. The trust is that in order for it to work, you have to trust that they will. That’s the dialectic involved in democratic practice and consultation, but it’s so hard to relinquish authority.

  1. Coons: One last question — hopefully looking for your knowledge on this. As far as Gitxaala and their laws of ayaawx and looking at defining the rights of ownership of land, resources, sea or whatever, that’s one dilemma that when we came to Rupert, we saw and heard. I’m just sort of wondering if you could comment on that within that framework.


  1. Menzies: Disagreements about who can speak or can’t speak need to be worked out within the house group and within the larger grouping of house groups. For example, locally people would talk about within the tribe or the clan. Amongst the Gisbutwada, Laxsgiik, Ganhada or Laxgibaaw — that’s just Blackfish, Eagle, Raven and Wolf — disagreements need to be worked out internally.

I would simply say that it’s my sense that these disagreements, such as they exist, will be worked on, improved and mediated. I think everyone recognizes that for the health of the community, there needs to be a common place and understanding. Sometimes, though, companies, organizations and agencies can play roles in shifting and destabilizing that balance. I think that’s part of the process too.

It goes both ways — upriver and down, up coast and down coast. Even university research agencies coming in with large buckets of cash can cause problems as well.

  1. Austin (Chair): Thanks, Charles, for your presentation. I appreciate it.

I’ve had a thing for bilhaa (abalone) for some time. I grew up eating them and picking them when given the chance. Then I got asked to write an expert opinion in the early 2000s by David Robins (lawyer with Woodward & Company) when a fellow community member was charged with illegal harvest and possession of abalone Menzies 2010). I was surprised while researching my expert opinion that so much of the published literature ran counter to what our matriarchs said about bilhaa harvesting.  Essentially, the academic orthodoxy held that the Indigenous harvest and consumption of bilhaa in BC was a posts sea otter extirpation activity – before sea otters were hunted the the brink of extinction my ancestors were alleged to never eat northern pinto abalone.  That was news to our matriarchs.

So I dug deeper. I emailed and called every archaeologist I knew and then some. The question was essentially the same,

‘have you ever seen abalone in a BC or Alaska village during your research. No, nope, nada, came the replies, just trace amounts. Professor Madonna Moss was even more helpful by giving me an empirical measure of significance  more than 2% by weight of sample.  Some responders told me that the traces were really just red turban shells. But the general consensus circa 2010/2011 was abalone was not an item of significance in the faunal record.

So trusting the empirical eagles eyes of my colleagues I tried a different tack. If there are no significant evidence of abalone in the faunal assemblage could there be something about harvesting and processing abalone or perhaps about the animal itself that mitigated against finding significant quantities of abalone in the soil matrix of our ancestral homes?  I spoke with community matriarchs, racked my memory banks, reviewed earlier interview transcripts, and thought about what my Dad or Aunt may have said. I was able top piece together a plausible explanation.

In the early twentieth century abalone were processed by steam cooking them in the shell in pits on the beach just below the living quarters. They were then shucked and strung on thin sticks to be dried above the stove in the rafters of the cabin. I also did a few experiments with shells I found along the beaches near Gitxaała. We steam cooked and burned empty shells , crushed them, shook them, soaked the, and all manner of things to replicate taphonomic processes. This led us to two possibilities: (1) the shells never made it into the village soils given where they were processed or (2) they were sufficiently fragile to be essentially unidentifiable in the soil even if there.  Both were reasonable explanations for why there might be no more than trace amounts of abalone in earlier archaeologists’s faunal assemblies.  Reasonable or not, it still made no sense to me. So I kept looking in all the places where we could see living bilhaa along the shore.

It seemed to me that maybe people weren’t looking in the right places – bilhaa are an outer coast, rough water entity. But the one dissertation I found that had shell that might have been bilhaa (based in Gwai Hannas National Park) concluded that their samples were red turban snails, not abalone. The only other report I had came from a consulting archaeologist working in Haida Gwaii who came across a lens of abalone in a shovel test, but their  terms of reference didn’t allow for detailed analysis. so their observation remained in the domain of nifty story.

Histories of Gitxaała villages on the outer coast of Banks Island, including stories of meeting the first merchant capitalists in the late 1700s, gave me ideas of where we might find material evidence of bilhaa, but we weren’t able to find a key village on south Banks Island on our first two trips in 2010. Third time lucky, in August 2010 one of our team on the Northern Monarch, Tim Innis, was listening to me talk about where we were trying to find. “I know where that is,: he said. I spent a winter there frozen in with my Dad on his trap line when I was a kid.” Without having been there for decades he gave us explicit directions.  I realized that on the previous trip I had been literally within about 100m of the old village.t.

Ks’waan is a storied place. Near here Gitxaała first met the merchantman James Colnett; it was not an auspicious visit. Ks’waan has a life and history far deeper than the recent visit of men like Colnett.

Our first visit to Ks’waan was not long, a southeast storm was rising. But the moment of finding this place stays with me. The cove at the front of the village was protected from the gale force winds blowing nearby. The house platforms were large, one with a ceremonial depression that suggests (later confirmed) the significance of the walp who built it.  We took mental notes and I made plans to return the following year.

The next year, 2011 we planned to conduct a small excavation (1m x 1m x 1m) in the center of one of the long houses. We also planned a series of auger and percussion tests (see map adjoining). I was hoping we would find abalone, but given the declarations of more experienced real archaeologists I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

As soon as the first auger test came out of the ground I could see abalone shells everywhere in it. My archaeological crew weren’t so easily convinced.  “There’s no distinguishing characteristics,” I was told. I looked at the sample and saw the clearly recognizable grey silver shiny flecks of shell and thought this is abalone, this is bilhaa. The entire tray sparkled with the characteristic shine. But, indeed the auger bit had crushed the shell so that even if there were clear and distinctive pieces in the sample they had been ground to hash in the auger. We equivocated back and forth with no resolution. We were split between the Gitxaała contentions that what we saw was abalone and the scientists holding on to their empirical scepticism.

Then came the muffled yells of one of the crew who had climbed up and into a space at the front of the village where the over burden had collapsed protecting the face of the village front to create a cave like space. He had found a full shell in situ that was very clearly abalone. – no dispute. I was pleased and excited, but still wondering why the experienced eye of three Gitxaała harvesters had to wait for one of the younger university crew to find a piece of shell that would satisfy the scientists’ doubt and empirical misgivings.

The methodological empiricism we embue are archaeological students with is important. It gives them a healthy sense of disbelief. But it also creates barriers to understanding other forms of knowledge and experience. As we set to work collecting

Bilhaa recovered from Ks’waan

more auger samples and two excavation units (one at the face of the village, the other in a house pit) it became very clear that what we had was indeed significant, consistent quantities of abalone. We sent samples for C14 dating to the lab that winter and the results showed consistent volumes of abalone shell from historical to 2500 years before present (see Menzies 2015).

I still wonder at the blind spot that led other archaeologists to discount the possibility of finding abalone even when it may well have been shimmering reflective in their own samples.  The anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano, writing about white south africans, suggested their cultural values entrapped them in a world in which majority rule was simply inconceivable to them. Finding abalone in any significant quantity was for the majority of archaeologists I spoke with equally inconceivable.  I think this brings us back to where I started: the ecological parable of the ill effects of the maritime fur trade in sea otters.

The sea otter story provided the rationale for an absence of abalone in faunal assemblages and thus anything that looked like

More bilhaa

abalone simply wasn’t abalone. The science explained that as long as sea otters were healthy then abalone would be kept down the tidal column below the depths my ancestors course access. Thus there would be no abalone prior to the late 1700 in the soil matrix of our old villages. Any abalone that was found would have come on trading ships from California (even that assumption has proven wrong (Menzies 2010). Remove the sea otter, abalone’s natural predator, and bilhaa will rise up the tidal column and our recent ancestors discovered them and started to eat them.  As time passed we started to wrongly believe (think here of the doctrine of the ’invented tradition’) that we had always eaten bilhaa. But our evidence from Ks’waan shows that’s just not true. But we didn’t need that physical evidence, we had the histories of our matriarchs telling us our history. We have the knowledge of our harvesters who can draw upon their experience harvesting and processing bilhaa.

So why were the archaeologists blind to bilhaa? One can be lenient and allow that this was simply a faulty assumption, an error in method. Now that we have empirical evidence at hand we can look for abalone shell more effectively. I am not, however, that lenient. I consider this blind spot one that stems from a colonial mentality that begins with doubting the capacity of Indigenous cultures and societies.  It’s an attitude that is persistent and pernicious and deeply rooted in the structure of this thing called the science of archaeology.

Mapping Citeyats

In preparing my post on the waakyil patch Iain McKechnie reminded me of the outcomes of our mapping work. I include some of the images that project produced. But Iain also reminded me of how Teddy Gamble showed/taught him about wooms (devil’s club) after Teddy saw some of the bushes that were cut down before I intervened.

Iain also shared the following: “through the mapping and coring, and applying the GIS skills of Robert Gustas, the cultural deposits from Citeyats have approximately 12,000 cubic meters of ancestral harvesting labour represented which is a quite important for considering how many fish are potentially present in the site.”

Other colleagues, including Iain, have been working on documenting how these village sites are not simply the accumulations of waste materials -mere middens- but clearly built environment that have been engineered by our ancestors. When we scrape off the foundation materials placed on the ground at Citeyats we find a wet swampy lower elevation site not really suitable for human habitation on the long haul. But the Citeyats we know today is dry, elevated, and set above the water level in ways that create a prime place for people.

We also mapped the trees growing in the village. We recorded their ages and locations. We did this as it provided a unique graphical representation of the locations of house beams and posts from two centuries previously.

The Green dots on the map represent trees; the bigger the dot, the older the tree.

Once we got past the issue of clearing the site we had a lot of fun with mapping and thinking about Gitxaała places in graphical ways.

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