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Walker Hook is a Sacred Place

Walker Hook is Syuhe'mun, a sacred place to Coast Salish First Nations.

Syuhe'mun means "place to catch up" in the Hul'q'umi'num' language. Hul'q'umi'num' is the language spoken by many Coast Salish people living in the Gulf Islands and Fraser Valley. Six separateRespected Penelakut Elders (l to r): Laura and August Sylvester and Myrus James groups of Mustimuhw ("the People") have come together to form the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group (HTG): the Cowichan, Halalt, Penelakut, Lake Cowichan, Chemainus, and Lyackson. Syuhe'mun is an important place for all of these Coast Salish people. Penelakut Elders, many of whom now live just north of Walker Hook on Kuper Island remember Syuhe'mun as an ancient village site and sacred place of their ancestors, as well as a place to fish and hunt and gather. Elders recall gathering clams and hunting deer and waterfowl at Walker Hook and remember certain ways they showed their respect for this sacred resting place of their ancestors, such as not carrying game across the tombolo, only being allowed to play on the beach, and always keeping fires below the tide line.

In 2003, hatchery well and pipeline construction by Sablefin Hatcheries, Ltd. disturbed the ancient midden. Eleven burials were found in the initial construction. Based on this density, it is estimated that as many as 740 people may be buried at Walker Hook.1 As written by Robert Morales, Chief Negotiator for the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group:

It is a plain fact that Syuhe'mun is the burial place of many of our Coast Salish Ancestors on Salt Spring Island. The archaeological site at Syuhe'mun (DfRu-002) represents physical evidence of a substantial ancient settlement built by past populations over millennia, which holds great heritage significance for our Hul'qumi'num people today. Our Hul'qumi'num people continue to use Syuhe'mun as an important resource harvesting location for marine and intertidal resources. These are uncontested facts and thereby, we submit, are strong evidence of our aboriginal rights . . . Honour and respect for one's family Ancestors is at the root of all Hul'qumi'num family and ceremonial life, social organization and customary law. Respecting the Dead is fundamental to the social status, health and spiritual well-being of families, who are obligated to care for and maintain relations with their deceased Ancestors . . . As the Dead can inflict powerful harm upon the Living for any disrespectful deed, the physical unearthing of a burial site and its skeletal remains is considered an unspeakable act of desecration that threatens the very balance of relations between the Living and their Ancestors. It is our customary law that the Dead are respected and their burial grounds are not physically disturbed. This customary law represents the continuity of spiritual and ceremonial practices that maintain our relationship with our Coast Salish people and our Ancestors throughout our traditional territory.

This was written as part of a letter from the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group entreating the Waste Management Branch of the Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection to uphold the Honour of the Crown (as outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in its recent decisions of Haida Nation and Taku-Tlingit), and deny Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd.'s permit application allowing them to discharge effluent into the ancient village and burial ground at Syuhe'mun. According to Morales, "The Crown has a legal duty (reinforced by the SCC) to consult and accommodate First Nations in decisions that may infringe upon aboriginal rights in Canada. The Crown's duty arises when it has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of aboriginal title and rights that may be adversely affected by government action. As such, the Crown 'cannot cavalierly run roughshod' over First Nations interests, but must reconcile aboriginal title and rights in good-faith through fair negotiated dealings. The Supreme Court of Canada affirms that the very 'Honour' of the Crown is at stake in its duty to reconcile aboriginal rights and title in all land and resource management decisions prior to treaty settlement."

In December 2004, the Waste Management Branch of the Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection did not follow the customary law of the Coast Salish regarding the cultural and religious significance of Syuhe'mun. It appears that they did not take into consideration that Sablefin Hatcheries' operation may be interpreted as an infringement on theRespected Elders and Chiefs from the Penelakut, Lake Cowichan and Lyackson First Nations at Walker Hook constitutional rights of the Coast Salish people. Neither did this Ministry follow their own provincial guidelines as outlined in the Sensitive Ecosystem Conservation Manual (SEI CM)2 (still no Environmental Impact Assessment has been completed). They chose to proceed despite concerns raised by the HTG about possible contamination of the marine resources at Walker Hook (to which the Coast Salish people have acknowledged harvesting rights). The Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection issued a permanent Waste Management Permit to Sablefin Hatcheries, Ltd. in December 2004. This permit allows a fourfold increase in the levels of hatchery effluent discharge now pumping through the burial ground to the underlying marine aquifer, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We believe that using Syuhe'mun as a waste disposal site communicates a unconscionable lack of regard for First Nations' rights and beliefs.

1. Eldrige, Morley (Millennia Research Ltd) Walker's Hook Professional Archaeological Opinion. Submitted to Woodward & Company, January 7, 2004.
2. McPhee, M., Ward, P., Kirkby, J., Wolfe, L., Page, N., Dunster, K., Dawe, N., and I. Nykwist. Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory: East Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands 1993-1997. Volume 2 Conservation Manual. Technical report Series Number 345. Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific and Yukon region, British Columbia.

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