Over-fishing, climate change, pollution, shipping traffic – the list of threats to our oceans is constantly growing. Coastal Indigenous nations experience the impacts of these activities in a deep way. At West Coast, we work with nations to revitalize Indigenous laws that provide guidance for how to better care for the marine space.
Tsawout is part of the WSÁNEĆ Nation; their main village is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the east side of the Saanich Pennisula. Since the RELAW project (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water) began, community researcher Joshua James and facilitator Shauna Johnson have collected over 100 stories from historical and anthropological sources and from within the community. The team invited community members to attend a series of storytelling sessions in order to re-connect with important places, such as the sacred site LÁU,WEL,NEW (a.k.a Mt. Newton), to engage with their stories and draft legal principles from those stories. Throughout the process, community members have been asked to consider the possibilities for creating an alternative future where WSÁNEĆ people actively make their own decisions and exercise authority on how to protect, conserve, and manage their marine ecosystems – and how to implement Douglas Treaty rights according to WSÁNEĆ laws.
Indigenous Guardian Programs
Effective laws require effective enforcement. At West Coast, we work to support the enforcement of Indigenous laws through Guardian Programs. For example, the Coastal Guardian Watchmen program was established to create an on-the-ground presence along the Pacific coast. These programs raise questions about the enforcement of both Canadian and Indigenous law. What happens when Guardians come across individuals violating laws? How can Indigenous nations enforce their own laws? How do Indigenous laws interact with Canadian laws when it comes to enforcement in the marine space? West Coast is working with Indigenous nations to explore some of these questions around enforcement.
Top photo: 604-250