W̱SÁNEĆ Youth Work to Revive SX̱OLE / Reef Net Fishing for Fourth Year in a Row

The W̱SÁNEĆ Reef Net Fishing project continued this year, led by Co-coordinators Edna Ellsworth and Laila Morris of Tsartlip Nation.

The W̱SÁNEĆ community, for the past four years, has been working diligently to reclaim the art of SX̱OLE, or reef net fishing, one of many traditional practices prohibited by the colonial government. The W̱SANEĆ Youth Reef Net Program – established by the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council in 2020 “as a way for knowledge to be transferred from Elders to Youth, revitalize W̱SÁNEĆ culture and provide employment opportunities for members of the community” – is an important part of this reclamation. The Program has provided groups of W̱SÁNEĆ youth the opportunity to experience reef net fishing as the Ancestors did.

The cohort of youths involved in the program since 2020 have dedicated months to researching, procuring materials, and collaborating with Elders to construct reef nets in ways that are as authentic as possible. Upon completion, the youth paddled in two canoes and release it into the robust currents of SX̱IX̱ŦE, just as W̱SÁNEĆ Ancestors did for time immemorial.

This year, Co-coordinators Edna Ellsworth and Laila Morris of the Tsartlip Nation led the way for the cohort, which set their reef net on August 8th, 2023.

Ellsworth and Morris have participated as students in each iteration of the program since it began. This year was their first time supporting the group as Co-coordinators, and they worked hard to make this cohort the most successful yet.

When asked about what was different this year, Ellsworth and Morris emphasized the participants were younger. This year’s cohort consisted of ten members, with some participants young as 15.

Ellsworth saw this as a valuable opportunity to share important traditions with younger community members. “In previous years our youngest was usually 18,” Ellsworth shares. “It’s a really unique process where you get to have such young students and you get to teach them all of the important teachings and practices that go along with this particular program.”

Additionally, this year’s program was originally planned for two full days – twice the length of past programs. Ellsworth was excited for this change, believing it would increase the group’s chances of catching a fish. “Having two days will allow us to get more acquainted with the net and being on the water and provide us the opportunity to work out some of the kinks and bumps along the way that go along with setting it for the first time,” Ellsworth said. Unfortunately, the second day of the event was canceled due to weather conditions.

There was also a sense that the group was more prepared than ever before. “In previous years,” Ellsworth shared before the event, “the tide would change and we would have to adjust along the way, but hopefully this year we have a better understanding of what the tide is going to look like.”

The increased preparedness is in part due to new collaborations. The youth worked closely throughout the summer with the QENTOL, YEN W̱SÁNEĆ Marine Guardians and also with previous reef net workers. Morris explains these collaborations were “an amazing opportunity”, and expresses gratitude that there is a “mutual understanding of the respect for the land and the respect for the water and the teachings that are followed” among the collaborators.

Finally, Morris shares that she and Ellsworth incorporated SENĆOŦEN as much as possible this year, using it in their “day to day work, learning phrases to use for setting the net and different reef net specific verbs and terms.”

In the end, while this year brought many changes, they were all in service of the same goal: reclaiming and reconnecting to W̱SÁNEĆ culture. As Morris shared, “In the project as a whole you definitely feel the connection to our ancestors that fished with this technology.”

The sentiment is shared by Ellsworth, who says, “It was an honor to witness the salmon ceremony (shown below) after having been there as the work was being done. It will be a true honor.”

W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council is grateful for the opportunity to share reef net fishing with youth, and is appreciative to Ellsworth and Morris for their willingness to guide the group through its fourth year.

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