Sometimes a man just has to say what is in his heart. I have been writing about the creator of environmental consciousness in the settler culture of British Columbia, on the North East shore of the Pacific Ocean. This man’s name is Roderick Haig-Brown. Over the last few days, I have been building a description of the world in which he lived. It is a world called “The Commons”. Yesterday, I posed the question, “Who are the people?” and answered with an explanation that the common people, rooted in the land, are the true government of nations rooted in North European culture. That’s really not a viewpoint at odds in any way with the indigenous cultures of Western North America, such as that of the Syilx in my valley, a glacially scarred trough of volcanic plutons, granite and ancient water that drains into the Columbia and from there past the stainless steel nuclear reactors of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and through Dismal Nitch to the sea. In the Syilx culture, these, too, are the people:
The Sockeye Salmon of N’kmip
They have swam down the Okanagan to the Columbia, down through the American states of Washington and Oregon, to the sea, and then north past all the other salmon of Western North America, to Siberia. It took them a year. Two years later they spent a year coming back home.
While they were gone on their four year-long journey, two years ago, that is, through the combined efforts of several layers of Canadian and American government, under the stewardship of the Syilx people of Colville, Washington and Osoyoos, British Columbia, they arrived back home in record numbers and first breached the dam at McIntyre Bluff, south of Okanagan Falls.
Last year they came home in even greater numbers, and an even greater number of people brought their families to the dam that blocked their path to cheer them on.
This year, large numbers of them have made it through the impossible barrier of the dam, have passed through Skaha Lake, have swum up the dredged Okanagan River channel past the Penticton sewage treatment plant outflow, and are banging at the gates of the dam at the bottom of Okanagan Lake, ten miles to the north. From there, it’s 99 miles of open water, formed from molten glaciers. When the day comes and they reclaim their lake from my species, I propose we have a national day of celebration among all peoples of the Columbia and the American and Canadian Okanagan. Each one of these fish is a hero. Each one, no matter if one of the tiny three pound fish or the big fifteen pound ones, has come over nine mainstream dams on the Columbia River, through the poisonous water of Osoyoos lake, and up miles and miles of weirs and dredged river channel, and yet they have all still come home. These are, perhaps, the toughest, strongest, and most determined fish in the world.
they have come home. This is the commons. This is what Haig-Brown was talking about. This is for all time, past, present and to come. This is where we touch the earth. This is where all of us, Syilx and settlers alike, all of us born on this land and who carry it in our bones, come home to the fish at the moment of the fish coming home to us. And where is home, exactly? Ah, yes.
Sunlight Above Okanagan Falls
These are my people
And I am theirs. What a thanksgiving this has been! Forgive my excitement. Tomorrow, we will talk about words again. Blessed be.