13 W̱SÁNEĆ youth in the community are working diligently to construct a culturally accurate reef net to launch just off Pender Island later this summer.
Shown above: the youth have completed constructing the lead portion of the Reef Net.
The Youth Reef Net program is a program created by the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council to facilitate knowledge transfer from Elder to Youth, promote W̱SÁNEĆ culture and provide employment opportunities within the community.
The youth reef net project is led by youth coordinator and acclaimed local athlete, Landon Underwood. Together, 13 youth ranging in ages from 17-26, have researched, sourced and begun construction on a culturally accurate reef net. While reef nets are no longer in common or regular use, for thousands of years they were an important harvesting tool for W̱SÁNEĆ people. The reef net was gifted to the W̱SÁNEĆ people from the Salmon spirit through marriage. SX̱OLE, or reef net fishing, was outlawed by the colonial government a hundred years ago, but since August 2014, the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation has been working to reclaim their distinct reef net fishing technology.
In a practice shared with their Lummi Nation relatives in Washington, the W̱SÁNEĆ reef net would be suspended between two ocean-going canoes in design to direct migrating salmon into the belly of the net.
In addition to consulting with Elders and researching traditional methods of construction within the community, the youth group visited the Legacy Art Gallery at The University of Victoria where the rich history of WSANEC Art, reef net construction, and use of the Reef Net is displayed.
The knowledge transfer from Elder to Youth is just one of the benefits of the Youth Reef Net Project.
Building a reef net in the modern-day and age, during the pandemic and within a vastly different ecological situation has been no easy feat.
“We’ve been trying to source the materials we need, the rope and net, for weeks, but they’ve been delayed in delivery to the Island”
Underwood shares. No matter the obstacles, the group has displayed care and diligence towards accomplishing their goals.
“I have twelve youth working with me to build this reef net. Everyone is participating in different ways, learning a variety of knots and taking on various responsibilities and roles.”
In addition to learning new skills, overcoming the challenges sourcing materials and constructing an ancient tool with modern-day materials, the group has also benefited from an increase in connection.
“We’ve definitely come together as a group, we didn’t really know each other before, but now it feels like a family. We are going to the lake after we work on the net. I’ve noticed an increase in morale as well as interest. They want to learn more about cultural things.” Underwood explains.
Once the net is completed, the youth group will launch off ILEĆEN, Pender Island. While a traditional ceremony isn’t possible due to COVID related restrictions on gathering in large groups, Underwood encourages people in the community to come out and celebrate this historic event in a safe way
“People should come out in the boats to see if we can catch fish. It’s a way to celebrate this accomplishment while staying socially distant”
The tentative plan for launch is August 13, 14 and 15th. Watch our Facebook page for details.
To stay updated on this project, please sign up for our newsletter.