Members of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation, Regional Power, local area politicians and special invited guests gathered at Sechelt Creek last Friday to celebrate a record salmon return and the partnership that made it possible.
The creek was enhanced by the shíshálh Nation and Regional Power in 1997 after the power company installed a 16-megawatt hydro station on the waterway.
Each year the enhanced creek has seen more salmon come back to spawn, and this year a record 20,000 pink salmon were recorded in the channel.
The success of the project was a vision held by many Sechelt elders when they pushed for involvement back in the 1990s. At that time just a few hundred fish were coming back to spawn.
“This was the first time we were involved in the planning,” said master of ceremonies Calvin Craigan at the Sept. 6 event. “The people of the Sechelt Nation were always totally ignored, so when this event began in the early ‘90s, we involved a lot of the logging industries like Canfor, Department of Fisheries and Oceans and various politicians from the community because this affects not only our people, but it affects the whole community. We were very proud to share in the development of this energy.”
The Sechelt Creek site up Salmon Inlet is an “extremely sacred place” to the shíshálh people, the Nation’s historian Candace Campo said.
“This is where our medicine people came and trained and our medicine people trained not for days or weeks, but for the majority of their life. They would come live up here and spend periods of isolation and they would learn all about the rich flora and fauna. They were the specialists of the plants,” she said.
The deep connection to the land made its development concerning, but with much discussion, cooperation and commitment both Regional Power and the shíshálh Nation were able to benefit from placing a power generating station on Sechelt Creek.
“To me this is the way things need to happen,” said Chief Garry Feshuk. “We’re meeting with another proponent just an inlet over and that proponent’s trying to tell me ‘that area’s not pristine, so why are you guys making such a big deal out of it?’ I said, ‘if we had a say back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s do you think that area would look like that? No it wouldn’t.’ That area would still be pristine, but it would also be done in a way that we can actually manage it and provide for our next generations.”
Regional Power executive vice president David Carter spoke about his first meetings with Elders to discuss the project.
“I remember that when I talked about Sechelt and I talked about the creek the Elders were very concerned about protecting their traditions, they were very concerned about the environment. It was something that we made a commitment to try and do the best we could do,” Carter said. “I think today the testament to what can be done when people work together is before us. This is I think a goal that should be part of all developments to do the best they can do.”
Feschuk thanked Carter for his willingness to work with the shíshálh Nation over the years, including the company’s work to build a facility that resembled a Coast Salish longhouse and setting up a training program for First Nation youth.
“What he’s left behind in our community I wish every single proponent could follow,” Feschuk said.