This spring, the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA) and RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air & Water) brought young people and Guardians from Lower Fraser First Nations together to discuss the importance of Indigenous law and fisheries governance – looking seven generations into the future.
On March 20-21, 2023, the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance LFFA-RELAW Project came together for the first ‘Young Peoples’ Gathering, hosted by Tsawwassen First Nation. We gathered for two days in their community on the south arm of the Fraser River. The ‘For the Love of Fish’ strategic gathering aimed to support collaboration across LFFA departments.
Context: The LFFA-RELAW Project
The RELAW Program partnered with LFFA in 2018, and have been collaboratively working on the LFFA-RELAW project since through team-leads Leah Ballantyne, LLM (LFFA RELAW Coordinator) and Rayanna Seymour-Hourie (RELAW lawyer). This work resulted in a synthesis report titled Revitalizing Indigenous law with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance: Legal Traditions of the Peoples of the Lower Fraser – which is intended to help enforce and uplift their own laws.
The synthesis report weaves together sxwōxwiyám/sx̌ʷəx̌ʷəyém (‘stories of the distant past’ or ‘tell stories’) and sqwélqwel/sqʷelqʷəl (‘true news’ or ‘oral stories’) and Elders’ knowledge, with an undertone analysis of what these stories teach us about Indigenous laws related to watershed management and fisheries governance in the Lower Fraser.
The LFFA-RELAW Project team intends to build on this legal synthesis, and during 2022-23, the LFFA-RELAW Team held multiple community gatherings to explore and brainstorm ways to increase LFFA’s capacity and services to Lower Fraser First Nations, by strategically strengthening the communications and community engagement already underway.
We had exciting keynote presenters (such as Kayah George from Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Aidan Fisher, Ch'iyaqtel and LFFA biologist; Shauna Yeomans, Taku River Tlingit Guardian; Mike Baird, Tsawwassen). We had break-out sessions with discussions, nice walks on the ‘Great Heron Way’ boardwalk, and soul food brought to us from the shore to our plates by Tsawwassen community members. To conclude our first night, we held an evening of empowering Indigenous entertainment (like Dakota Bear, Moonstone, YB Nakoda).
The key purpose of this gathering was to hear what the young people of Lower Fraser First Nations were saying related to their inherent rights to fish and healthy waters. The LFFA-RELAW Project team has been told over and over throughout the five years of this Project, that the stories, teachings, and inherent rights of their ancestors must be passed down from Elders to young people.
Gatherings like this are incredibly valuable for networking, empowerment, and brainstorming ways for climate adaptation, Guardianship work, habitat restoration, watershed management, ecosystem health, and biodiversity protection.
Michelle Buchholz from the Wet’suwet’en nation, captured the event as a witness by graphic recording and documenting key things that were shared with the group in a visual format.
Trauma-informed facilitation is central to RELAW workshops or events. It allows guests to feel invited, welcomed, and that they can come and go as they please. We had over 35 people attend each day, coming when they could and leaving with swag bags filled with stickers, clothing, totes, a Kwiis Hamiliton youth art print, and a copy of the LFFA-RELAW legal synthesis summary.
Many participants highlighted the Great Blue Heron Way boardwalk walk with Krystal Lockert on Two-Eyed Seeing and aquatic habitat, as their favourite part of the first day of the gathering.
It was inspiring to be on the land and learning from, and with it. We explored the views of the shoreline and Fraser River estuary, pointing at all the life that inhabits the area – Blue Herons, Eagles, Sandpipers, Fish, and so much more. We learned about the impacts of infrastructure on the ecosystem, about the Blue Heron rookeries, and about local spots to view certain species at certain times of the day.
We made our break-out groups fun by naming our groups after the stages of the salmon life cycle. We had team egg, alevin, fry, parr, smolt, and adult. In reflection, we asked questions like:
- What are fish rights? What do they need for a healthy life?
- What is your vision for a healthy Fraser River?
- What does “for the love of fish” mean to you?
- What are young people's roles in protecting the fish?
Main takeaway from LFFA-RELAW Project’s Young Peoples Gathering
Fish such as salmon, sturgeon, and eulachon in the Fraser River sustain livelihoods, and the medicine/sustenance they provide is not just physical, but also spiritual, cultural, emotional and economical.
Looking after the fish and the water is important work that calls on nations to stand up “For The Love of Fish,” not only in the Lower Fraser but all territories where fish or their habitat is in danger due to overharvesting, pollution, invasive species, climate change and more. The main takeaway from the Young Peoples Gathering is that there is not only interest, but a desire among young people to learn more and to be involved with the LFFA’s fisheries and aquaculture work.
In rain, clouds, shine, and the warmth of the spring equinox, the LFFA-RELAW Project celebrated the beginning of learning that will continue on for seven generations into the future. All in all, the first Young Peoples Gathering turned out to be super successful and engaging to all those who attended. We thank all who joined, as everyone had such great energy – from the amazing cooks, to our Tsawwassen hosts, and to the entertainment.