I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to work with the Tsawout First Nation and grassroots groups including Turning the Tide and the Social Environmental Alliance to organize the Paddle for ȽEL,TOS and the Salish Sea on September 2, 2018.
Nearly 300 paddlers in 95 boats converged on the Salish Sea, including eight big canoes and a barge with Elders, followed by 400 people packed into the Tsawout Gym for a community meal and presentations. The purpose of the Paddle was to support the call of the WSÁNEĆ People for the return of ȽEL,TOS (James Island).
I would like to thank everyone who participated and contributed toward the success of the event, particularly Mavis Underwood for her leadership. HIS'KWE (Thank you).
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A return to a rightful owner? That’s the issue at hand when it comes to an island off the coast of the Saanich Peninsula. Sunday, hundreds gathered in boats around ȽEL,TOS or James Island. All in support of the Tsawout First Nation’s claim to land that now belongs to an American Billionaire. Luisa Alvarez was there.
By Luisa Alvarezon, Chek News, September 2, 2018
ȽEL,TOS or more commonly known as James Island is privately owned and has been for 150 years. But before that, the Island belonged to the Tsawout people and they want it returned.
“The island has been a part of our traditional territory right from the beginning of our creation so we have made an assertion to claim it back,” said elected Tsawout councillor Mavis Underwood.
Over 200 people attended the demonstration to support the claim that is now before the courts, including federal green party leader Elizabeth May.
“It’s a triumph that indigenous peoples in Canada have held onto their culture their language their traditions and even fragments of land being restored is an important step forward,” said May.
Many who attended took to the water at Cordova spit in canoes, kayaks, and boats for the four-hour journey around the island in solidarity with the people of Tsawout First Nation.
“It shows that settler people like me are allies with indigenous people and that our communities coming together in solidarity to repair past wrongs and build respectful relations moving forward,” said volunteer and Victoria City Councillor Ben Isitt.
Not only does the Island have archaeological significance to the Tsawout people it was traditionally used for fishing hunting and gathering because it’s rich in plant-life and seafood.
Although the Island has had significant ecological impacts due to past industry.
“Right now there are golf courses, there’s resorts… [on the Island] they made one-tenth of the TNT that was exploded on the western front by the British empire and then they made paint for half a century,” said Isitt.
Underwood says if returned restoration and decontamination would be a priority.
“We want to see people really proud of what’s provided in the water it’s all very important for us to be able to educate the young people to inspire them and have our way of life continue,” said Underwood.
Learn more about the Paddle for ȽEL,TOS and the Salish Sea at http://turningthetide.ca.