A Blog Posting by WaterWealth Community Advisor Larry Commodore
At the March 2 launch of the WaterWealth campaign, I had the honour to say a few words to the nearly 100 persons who responded to our invitation. Below is an expanded version of the brief talk I gave that day. You can watch the video courtesy of Chris Gadsden here.
Before European contact, the First Nations in what we now know as the Pacific Northwest were considered the wealthiest of First Nations on this continent. This included the Sto:lo, the In-SHUCK-ch , the Yale and the Nlaka'pamux. This wealth came from the natural abundance of this region. There were huge, ancient forests; plentiful runs of salmon; rich, fertile soil, all given life by pure, flowing water.
When the first European settlers came here, they called it a “Second Eden”. In the Chilliwack area,for example, just down the road from the WaterWealth office, is Eden Drive, which is connected to Edenbank farm, started by the pioneer settler A.C. Wells. That was some 150 years ago.
In that relatively short span of time, much of the natural abundance has been stripped away. Now there are only remnants of those ancient forests; remnants of once plentiful runs of salmon.
Also in that span of time, great loss was experienced and great harm inflicted upon First Nations. This was the work of the British Empire, the most powerful empire in the history of the world; as it sought to reap the benefits of an abundant land, a Second Eden.
Oliver Wells, great-grandson of A.C. Wells, took an interest in the culture and history of his Sto:lo neighbours. Beginning in the early 1960s, with amateurish passion and a Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder, he began to document what he considered the remnants of a dying race, reflecting the conventional wisdom of the time.
Unfortunately, this third generation Wells died before his time; killed in a car accident while on vacation in Scotland in 1970. His legacy includes a number of books, most about the Sto:lo, many of whom had been his life long friends. The Wells family had always gotten along with the Sto:lo.
What Oliver did not live to witness was the resurgence of First Nations, sparked in 1969 by the threat posed by a Trudeau government “white paper”; an assimilitionist policy proposal. He did not witness, in particular, the “Rebirth of the Sto:o Nation”; the slogan itself coined a short distance from Edenbank farm, at the Coqualeetza cultural centre. His work, however, contributed to that rebirth.
“We are all here to stay” are the famous words from the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in the aboriginal rights case known as Delgamuuk. Certainly, First Nations can no longer be considered a dying race. And the lasting legacy of Oliver Wells is one of how respectful and sincere relations can provide for lasting mutual benefits that carry on for generations. This is the work we must take up now; we must seek to bring back abundance to our shared home - to recreate a second Eden -by joining together in sincere collaboration.
Larry Commodore is Community Advisor at the WaterWealth Project. Photo of Hicks Lake (above) by Ivan Planek.