ḰELSET Will Be Ready For Salmon Run Next Year

The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Centre celebrates another win with the remediation of ḰELSET (Reay Creek).

ḰELSET (Reay Creek) runs across the Saanich Peninsula through the Victoria International Airport, the Town of Sidney, and the municipality of North Saanich.

ḰELSET (Reay Creek), along with the connected ȾEṈTEN (Tenten Creek) were traditionally used to portage through airport lands, between villages and to access ḰELSET (Bazan Bay), the sea, and the Southern Gulf Islands beyond.

According to Floyd Underwood, of the Tsawout Nation, who obtained the information from Tseycum Nation elders:

“The site at Bazan Bay, called ḰEL ̧SET (Bazan Bay, Outfall of Reay Creek) was of great significance in that it provided a gathering site for the camas as well as Xiwe (purple sea urchin) and Sqwiti (Green sea urchin). This was also [a] traditional site for greeting and celebrating visits from neighbouring tribes. From this site, our peoples also launched their canoes to travel to the various Gulf Island sites to gather fresh seagull eggs. This area was used primarily as a gathering and launching area during the Spring/Summer months. The site enabled a safe launch area for our peoples to carry on trade and cultural relations with other Coast Salish tribes and villages in Canada and the United States.”

The large parcel of land in the middle of the Saanich Peninsula (blue) is owned by Transport Canada and leased by the Victoria Airport Authority.

Because of the creation of the airport in the 1940s, W̱SÁNEĆ people have not been able to access Airport Lands to collect camas, portage, or engage in cultural practices. Further, in 2016, Reay Creek Pond was classified as a Class 1, or high priority, contaminated site. Sediment samples revealed high levels of cadmium, zinc, chromium and lead from the industrial activity at the airport over the last 75 years, which have impacted the cutthroat trout and coho salmon that spawn there. 

Once it was classified as a priority site, Transport Canada and the Town of Sidney agreed to remediate the creek and the pond. By working on separate elements of the project concurrently, they intended to minimize further damage to the sensitive ecosystem by draining Reay Creek Pond once instead of twice.

As part of this remediation work, the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council made sure that W̱SÁNEĆ interests were considered. The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council hired a total of 9 community members to be present onsite as cultural workers and environmental monitors.

Once on site, the W̱SÁNEĆ workers were able to ensure appropriate treatment of the ancestors, the land, and the fish and plant relatives. Specifically, they focused on:

  1. Treating archeological artifacts, ancestors and the land in a culturally appropriate manner;
  2. Planting native plants to ensure the ecosystem is healthy and sustainable for the future;
  3. Ensuring that fish were cared for during the draining and remediation of the creek and pond; and,
  4. Ensuring cultural protocols were followed.

Typically, a project of this kind would proceed without much W̱SÁNEĆ involvement. As such, W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council is very pleased to have been on site working to restore the environment, and we acknowledge the Town of Sidney and Transport Canada for their involvement in this precedent-setting, initial step towards upholding, reaffirming and strengthening W̱SÁNEĆ decision-making within W̱SÁNEĆ territory.

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