A meteor shot thru the pre-dawn sky, burning longer than any I’ve ever witnessed. Was it a sign that something was about to happen?
We were up early to head north to Ahousaht territory to witness the removal of Cermaq’s new fish farm from a place called Yaakswiis, on the shore of Flores Island. The facility had been occupied by members of Ahousaht First Nations for 13 days, until the company finally agreed to remove the floats—at first light on Monday, September 21.
Filled with anticipation, we all waited for hours that day, but the company didn’t show. We finally heard on the marine VHF radio that they would do it Tuesday morning. The bulk of the protectors sped back to the village to issue a media release, but no-one in our boat felt like rushing away—it was such a gorgeous day and something didn’t feel complete yet. We drifted lazily in the hot September sun, basking in the beauty of Clayoquot Sound.
Our skipper, Qaamina Hunter from Ahousaht, decided he wanted to land near a stream to do a ritual purification. When he returned from the rainforest he offered some plant medicine, which he explained would amplify our ability to speak the truth. Can I take some right now?, I asked. Sure, he replied. I took a small bit, and tucked the other bit away for later.
He felt a need to go to the farm and perform a banishment ceremony, which we wholeheartedly agreed with. He had gathered some cedar branches, and as we drove slowly around the huge metal installation, he tossed cedar into the water at each of the four corners.
Ahousaht leadership reclaims site for their people
Shortly thereafter the Ahousaht Fisheries boat dropped a small group of people off on the fish farm walkway, then headed over to request our presence at the float.
We arrived to see an Ahousaht ḥaweeł (hereditary chief), another ḥaweeł’s representative, the elected Chief Councillor, and a healer. They asked Qaamina to join the ceremony they were about to perform. He assured us that we had been asked to stay and witness.
The healer began a chant with his rattle, and started speaking in the Nuu Chah Nulth language. The few words I do understand began to pop out of his speech: Ahousaht chiefs, Ahousaht people, respect, land, take care of it… They proceeded around the perimeter of the fish farm walkway, chanting and spreading copious amounts of eagle down, which is traditionally used for purification.
Once they had completed a full circuit they stopped and began to speak again. At this point they called on Bonny, artist Leanne Hodges, and me to witness what had happened. They told us they had reclaimed the site on behalf of the Ahousaht muusčim (people), and had blessed the waters. They told us that as long as there are Ahousaht people alive, there will never be a fish farm at Yaakswiis.
That evening a feast was hosted by the Yaakswiis Warriors in Ahousat. Many people rose after eating to share their concerns about salmon farms in their waters. More than one elder mentioned that although they had family members working on the farms, and were concerned about the fifteen jobs Cermaq provides in Ahousaht, they were more concerned about the harm caused to the wild salmon, the herring, the clam beds; and that the farms need to be removed from the ocean.
The following morning there was only one boat available, so only a skeleton crew could head up to witness the removal. Bonny was there. She said “Watching Cermaq remove their Yaakswiis fish pens was incredible. This removal is unprecedented. For nearly 20 years I’ve watched the fish farms increase in number in Clayoquot Sound, knowing they were silently killing the local salmon and herring. Never give up! ƛeeko ƛeeko (thank you) Ahousaht First Nations for what you have done!”
In the words of Lennie John, the Ahousaht man who led the occupation, “I’m shocked it was this easy with just a handful of warriors…imagine what we can do with a Nation. Imagine what we can do with all the people that care for this planet.”
This was the beginning of the end of salmon farming in Clayoquot Sound’s pristine waters. Thank you to everyone who supported the Yaakswiis occupation by providing funds, food, technical support, accommodation, boat transportation, and eyes on the water.
Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.