Last week, staff from the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, teachers from the ȽÁU,WEL,ṈEW̱ Tribal School and the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership School, and The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC) toured SISȻENEM (Halibut Island) in one of many planned visits to assess the ecology and clean up debris left from the previous owner.
Since February’s landmark purchase and upcoming transfer of the island from TLC to the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, there have been multiple visits by elders, scientists and cleanup crews.
These visits are an important part of the creation of the conservation covenant and co-management plan the TLC and W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council are working on together. The intention is to incorporate Indigenous land management principles and provide access to the island for cultural, education, research, and monitoring purposes.
SISȻENEM is an important cultural place for W̱SÁNEĆ people.
Located immediately east of Sidney Island, SISȻENEM was a place where W̱SÁNEĆ people would fish for cod, collect traditional medicines, and harvest camas. Most importantly for W̱SÁNEĆ people today, SISȻENEM will be a place where W̱SÁNEĆ people can be in peace.
Discussing SISȻENEM, W̱SÁNEĆ Elder SELILIYE (Belinda Claxton) reminisced about islands such as this and their importance for future generations:
“I remember, we’d go from island to island. We went to harvest seagull eggs and boxwood and different types of medicine. Or, during minus tide we would get sea urchins and stick shoes (chitons) . . . And, the fragrance of those wildflowers. Sometimes I get a whiff of it when I go out in the spring. It brings back such beautiful childhood memories. It was so natural and so pleasant to be able to see that when I was a child. This is the sort of experience I want my children and my grandchildren to have. I don’t want them seeing it in the picture. There are not many places like this left.“
The name SISȻENEM cannot be easily translated into English as a whole, but each syllable conveys a sense of what the place is to W̱SÁNEĆ people: SISḴ means “enjoying the sun,” ȻEN is a feeling of inner peace, and EM means a place where these things happen. Roughly SISȻENEM means sitting out for pleasure of the weather.
TLC was able to acquire the island with the support of one major donor to protect the site’s cultural, ecological, and geological significance after the island and donor was brought to the charity’s attention by Dr. Tara Martin, UBC Faculty of Forestry’s Conservation Decisions Lab Head. (shown above)
According to Dr. Martin, “SISȻENEM is an ecological and cultural jewel. There are only a handful of islands like this left in the Salish Sea. When it came up for sale I knew I had to find a way to get it back into the hands of its traditional owners to ensure its stewardship and protection for generations to come.”
SISȻENEM closed to the public until the management plan is in place
SISȻENEM is private property that is currently being held for conservation and educational purposes by The Land Conservancy in trust for W̱SÁNEĆ. It is not open to the general public. Soon, The Land Conservancy will transfer title to the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council and, together, we will develop a management plan.
Until a management plan and protocol for visitation is in place, additional visitors to the island risk permanent damage to the numerous sensitive ecological and cultural sites. As a result, we ask all parties to refrain from traveling to or landing on SISȻENEM at this time.
The visits taking place currently are aligned with general conservation/management principles and are designed to ensure safety, keeping in mind the mooring facilities are in disrepair, the presence of junk on the island that still needs to be removed, and necessary COVID protocols.
This is a short-term solution as we develop a management plan in collaboration with the Elders and other W̱SÁNEĆ advisors. We thank everyone for their patience as we work hard to develop a plan that will protect SISȻENEM for generations to come.
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