Of Roe, Rights, and Reconciliation
August 31, 2018 9:29 AM   Subscribe

On the British Columbia coast, the Heiltsuk First Nation asserts its rights to manage its resources, and who has access to them, through the seasonal herring harvest.

The waters of Spiller Channel are dark cobalt blue, the sea’s surface chopped by a wind that knifes out of the north. The sky is a gray blanket from which snowflakes shake loose over our skiff as it speeds toward a point just shy of Tate Lagoon.

Paradoxically, the snow signals a warming trend along the central coast of British Columbia, the first hint of spring. The previous day, the last of March, had been what airplane pilots refer to as “severe clear”—bright blue sky, with lips and fingertips to match.
posted by poffin boffin (8 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Very interesting. I have permanently bookmarked Hakai magazine because their journalism is excellent.

Each summer I visit my family in the midwest and we inevitably decide that foodtv is the most neutral tv type entertainment. Just a few weeks ago I caught one of those travelogue "strange foods" episodes about making oil from herring and eating the roe right off the hemlock branches with a slab of seal and some toast. I recognized the roe on hemlock immediately.

I am happy for the tribe and applaud their ability to hold onto their rights to the fisheries. My bet is that the entire ecosystem there will benefit (if global climate change doesn't wreck it first). good luck to them!
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:33 AM on August 31, 2018

Yeah this article was a great read and I might have to check out some more Hakai mag stuff. Always nice to hear about something of a victory for once, let's just hope it can be maintained.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2018

I am a little bit hilariously distressed to realize that every time I have admired a photo of northern coastal waters with that milky/lighter green-turquoise color, I have in fact been admiring herring jizz.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:48 AM on August 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

I just saw a nicely made and beautifully shot movie about this, Kayak to Klemtu. The (femal) director is Heiltsuk and the film was made in these territorial waters, including Bella Bella.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:54 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter's own Hakai Magazine

This is an excellent piece. I've worked south of Bella Bella quite a lot and in other parts of the coast including on archaeology of fisheries. Herring were severely underestimated by archaeologists as well (usually in favour of the more charismatic salmon) but recent work has shown herring were the most ubiquitous fish caught on the coast in pre-contact times (self link), and perhaps the most important cultural and natural keystone species on the coast.

One of the more interesting contextual parts of this story is how the Hakai Institute (which funds the editorially-independent Hakai Mag) is creating a scientific revolution in BC Coastal Science. The institute is the funded primarily by a couple who came upon wealth through medical imaging technology, and amongst other things, are funding literally hundreds of scientists, students and First Nations to do holistic, interdisciplinary research on the long term cultural and natural history of the BC Coast. I'm biased because they fund my research too and I just had dinner two days ago with them, but these two (who like to lay low for the most part) are stunning examples of the responsible use of great wealth: hands off science leads where it may; a commitment to public dissemination; respect and collaboration with First Nations at every stage of research. It's a really cool story, several orbits outside this story of herring, but shows how respect + brains + money + students is unpeeling the simplistic systems approach of, for example, commercial fisheries management.
posted by Rumple at 11:42 AM on August 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

This was very interesting and I'm glad to know of Hakai magazine. Thanks for posting it, poffin boffin.

I found myself thinking about Daniel Jose Older's Why We Don't Italicize Spanish video and liking the stylistic choice they made for how to render Heiltsuk words: put it in italics the first time it's introduced and explain what it means; after that don't italicize it and use it as you would any other word.
posted by Lexica at 12:40 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

That was so fascinating. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 6:56 PM on August 31, 2018

Great post!!

This hit home

Brown works as the Heiltsuk’s haíɫcístut negotiator, being a potlatch term meaning “to turn things around and make it right again,” which is how the Heiltsuk choose to define what others call “reconciliation.”

I've been involved in several conversations at work where FIrst Nations people (I'm settler/white) problematize the term "reconciliation" because it implies equal parties reconciling a disagreement. This concept of haíɫcístut is a helpful improvement I think.
posted by chapps at 12:16 PM on September 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

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