The Sechelt First Nation celebrated national Aboriginal Day by returning to visit traditional territory in Princess Louisa Inlet this week. Aboard the Malibu Princess cruise, they shared their stories, reflected on the past and passed on their culture to the younger generation. Theresa Jeffries grew up living in Deserted Bay during the summer.
"Every time I come up here, I feel like I'm coming home," she mused. "The Band is really good in sending us up here, touching home base. I think we're all proud of the fact that this is our land and our ancestors have been here for years and years. Aboriginal Day means to me that we're finally recognized. It lets other people know that we are a people with pride and letting people know our history, our stories."
She noted that today, "Our elders are playing a big role in the development of our land."
Lori Dixon said that traditionally the Sechelt people would travel to Princess Louisa Inlet for spirit training, on a spirit quest.
"It's your origin, it feeds your spirit to go home," she said. "Our blood and our bones are here."
Aboriginal Day falls on the summer solstice when First Nations throughout North America celebrate surviving the winter by performing sun dances, Dixon explained.
The day is also an opportunity to bring the community - from infants to elders - together to socialize and have fun, and even to share in wildlife sightings, like the grizzly bear some spotted at the end of the inlet.
The First Nations people have shared the land up the inlet with mountain goats, grizzlies, wolves, deer, elk and cougars - and the water with shellfish and salmon, providing them with food sources.
"It sustained our people," said Sid Quinn, who works for the Sechelt Indian Band's natural resources department. "This was our grocery store."
Quinn emphasized the importance of learning from elders while visiting the traditional territory and hearing stories passed on from forefathers to teach the younger children.
"It's also a chance to bring the community together," he said, and to "see our traditional territory and really get a sense of where we came from. It's a chance to reflect on the past." In 1923, four First Nations amalgamated to form the Shishalh Nation, he explained. A hundred years ago the First Nations people were living in little villages in the inlet and travelling by canoe, said Sechelt Indian Band Coun. Tom Paul. He commented on the youth cultural ambassadors group singing in their peoples' traditional village.
"These kinds of things make them aware of where they're from," Paul said. "Maybe we came back and woke up some spirits here. It's not very often our people get up to visit our traditional sites." He commended the previous councils for initiating the Aboriginal Day tour and Construction Aggregates for its donation toward the day's food.
Ronald Jeffries used to fish up the inlet with his father. More recently he has been watching over one of the logging camps, staying for six days at a time in the isolated area.
"You can hear yourself think up here," Jeffries said.
Russell Dixon returned this week to where he used to fish with his father in the river at the end of the inlet, this time to fish off the bridge with his wife Doreen. He went to school in Deserted Bay in a logging camp his father ran. Back then the cherry trees fed people for a month, he recalled. This was the third time he has been back since he was a child.
Jamie Dixon guided the tour over the loudspeaker for the 261 people on board, pointing out mountain goats, seals, pictographs and a rockface resembling a chief's head as the boat floated past soaring mountains, valleys and waterfalls.