The Haisla named this point Obela. Not so long ago, the bay was lined with longhouses and canoes, totem poles and fishing gear. The reserve was once a winter village, a place to celebrate the sacred season, when memories passed in dance and song and stories from one generation to the next with great feasts called potlatches.
The land and the ocean are living, breathing entities that supported us, clothed us, fed us, and nurtured our culture from time immemorial.
Where I come from, people will spit at you if they think you support Enbridge.
A potlatch is similar to a court case in that both are prohibitively expensive; both involve lengthy speeches and the vigorous examination and debate of the actions, rights and legal responsibilities of the participants. One has food, singing and spiritual rites; the other, not so much.
I'm a novelist from the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, both small coastal reserves hugging the rugged shores of the west coast.
While hereditary chiefs inhabit the apex of our traditional social systems, it would be a mistake to think they hold all the power. They aren't kings. They aren't dictators. They're answerable to their clans and their matriarchs. All decisions that affect our communities require lengthy, deliberate discussions and careful negotiation.
The main reserve of the Haisla Nation hugs the northwest coast of British Columbia, about 500 miles north of Vancouver. The government docks sprawl on the south end of the reserve, nestled in a bay. As children, we swam at the docks and ran to the nearby point to pick blueberries and huckleberries when we were hungry so we wouldn't have to go home.
On June 22, 1793, Vancouver's Discovery and Chatham anchored in Klekane Inlet. Archibald Menzies, the ship's botanist, wrote that on the evening of June 28, they were visited by eight natives in two canoes who brought them two large salmon. This is the first known published encounter with the Haisla people.