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Fair Winds, Following Seas, Friends, and Celebrating Fish Farm Removal: A Break From Our Expedition

*Some names have been changed*

Our stop in Telegraph Cove was planned to be a 1 day stopover to pick up a tote bin full of food, dropped off in advance by a friend. The planned end of our Section 1 was so mundane, it may never have made it into the blog...

And then we caught some sweet currents and winds through Johnstone Strait, arrived 3 days early, and it turned into an 8 day social boondoggle & inspiring cultural experience. With friends, new and old, local and from afar.

Advanced warning: this post has absolutely nothing to do with kayaking. We'll start from the beginning.

Thanks to Daniela for the food drop and friendship!

While we were in Telegraph Cove on May 1st, Masa -- a solo sailor who'd promised to "throw you boys a beer as I pass by" on her way to Alaska -- had been messaging us. She was passing by us to Alert Bay to meet some friends for a "party" on May 6th and invited us to come. We mentioned it to our friend Rachel, who confirmed it with her friend in the area (working at OrcaLab) Megan. There would be a celebration of the removal of fish farm from the Broughton Archipelago on May 6th at the Big House in Alert Bay. We emailed the BATI organization, and the open invite was confirmed. Time to reshuffle our plan around the celebration. The celebration was to commemorate the removal of fish farms from the Broughton Archipelago, a very big deal for the protection of local wild salmon -- and thus the rest of the food chain -- as well a step forward in the self determination of the local indigenous Nations.

The stunning Tsatsisnukwomi Big House has an incredible history, well worth the visit.

Nathan and I decided to explore some sights in the Broughton. First we paddled from Telegraph Cove to Flower Island, for a nice place to camp and to deliver a toothbrush to a guide friend whose old toothbrush decided to dissolve on her, two days into a 21 day trip. We chatted with Sam and Lisa and their group of kids - who Nathan had previously worked with - before setting up camp for ourselves. The next day, we paddled to Tsatsisnukwomi to visit the village and take a tour, including of their Big House. It was inspiring to see the how much reconstruction work the family has done. One of the poles that struck me was the two headed serpent, which represents your choice between positivity and negativity. something I've been working on a lot. We met a young family there, Tim, Kim, and their baby son. They had been travelling the world for 8 years on bike, and moved to this village. They'd just come back from an Oolichan harvest. Inspiring and kind family, who gifted us some smoked salmon. We left the beach, and paddled on to find somewhere to stop for lunch.

Nathan and I were sitting on a beach with two sailboats anchored in the bay. As we were eating, a row boat with three people aboard comes up to us and says "are you the crazy boys paddling to Alaska?!" Yup. Turns out it was Masa - the sailor lady from the internet - buddy boating with her friends James and Allison. Small world. It turns out is very challenging to board and unload a kayak from a sailboat, but we figured it out as we boarded. We joined them for tea, which quickly (and very generously) turned into BBQ oysters and steak tacos and beer. The night was tons of fun, resulting in us spending the night on Masa's boat.

Double Bay Sanctuary from the water

The next morning we set off, with a plan to meet them in Alert Bay in the evening. We stopped at what we thought was a lodge for a snack and pee break, but turns out it was Double Bay Sanctuary ( We were warmly greeted by Nicolette & Michael, who gave us a tour of their incredible facility and the details of their project. They're gearing up to campaign to have a resident Orca, Corky, returned from SeaWorld into a custom marine enclosure in her home sea. She'll be able to speak with her family, the A15 pod she was taken from, while remaining physically separated and cared for by a staff of scientists and vets. They're currently working on initial conversations with stakeholders and renovating their ex-fishing lodge for this purpose. We're looking forward to following their ambitious project, and wish them all the best.

We paddled on to Alert Bay, set up camp on the North West corner of the island (per James' & Caleb's recommendations), and walked down to the dock. We had a nice tour of Allison & James' sailboat, which they've put a lot of work into renovating, and then headed back to Masa's for another night of fun with the sailors. We even made a new friend, Emma, who'd come up to sail with Masa to Alaska.

Saturday May 6th was the big day of celebration. Nathan & I walked across the island from our campsite to Dutchess' Bannock & Desserts for breakfast. Dutchess herself does all the work, and oh does she make an incredible bannock. Definitely a must try in Alert Bay. She sat and chatted with us as we ate, we learned about all the travelling she'd done, some things about her family, and she even gave us some foraging tips. At one point, she even walked us out of the shop and across the street to show us how to harvest salmon berry stalks. A tasty and nutritious tip for our trip! After a long breakfast and chat, we were running late to the celebration! We managed to hitchhike with Ian, one of the men cooking for the celebration, and made it on time, despite the traffic in town - everyone was headed to the same place. We linked up with Megan and Rachel who'd come for the day, and ran into Tim & Kim.

A photo of the beach ceremony to open the celebration.

The beach ceremony was beautiful, the sound of the drums, the prayers, the eagle down blowing in the wind with the crisp salty air. I honestly didn't understand the details, but you could feel the pride, passion, and power of the people through the ceremony.

After the beach ceremony, we made our way back to the Big House on foot - a 10 minute walk - and spoke more with some of our new friends. I got to meet Josh, a very humble man who'd volunteered at the fish farm occupations early in the movement, who had some interesting stories to share.

The celebration's energy was powerful

Entering the Big House was striking. It's a huge wooden building, made out of some of the biggest trees I'd ever seen. The floor is sand, taken from beaches in Namgis territory. At the entrance and back of the big house there were poles, including another Sisu the two headed serpent pole. Right in the middle was an enormous fire, fed with logs the same size as me. I felt an immediate sense of awe. I sat down with my new friends and chatted with them. That's when "Famous Toni" dropped in, another Solo Sailor whom Allison, James, Emma, and Masa kept referring to in stories but Nathan and I had not yet met. She was volunteering to assist a Matriarch that day so we had a quick chat and she got back to work.

The celebration at the Big House was incredible. It was a mix of prayer, ceremony, and speeches. Some things that really stood out to me were:

- The intergenerational nature of the movement, which has taken at least 35 years. One example was a family where 3 generations had taken on leadership roles in their traditional territories. It can take a long time to make these changes, and the persistence of the people involved is remarkable.

- The diversity of people involved, from young to old, of many different backgrounds, who fought together to have the fish farms removed.

- The delegation from the BC provincial government that attended were very proud of their participation, but very grateful for the leadership of the First Nations in the Broughton on the issue.

- I thought the supernatural salmon mask was incredible.

- I really enjoyed participating in a group dance.

- All the volunteers who'd participated in the movement were brought on stage and acknowledged individually, both by name but also by contribution. A short story was told of a memorable moment in their participation. It was incredible how connected and intimate this large group of people who'd contributed was with eachother. Talk about community.

- Something I really appreciated was the use of traditional language and ceremony at the celebration. It was abundantly clear that outsiders like me were welcome, we were fed and warmly interacted with many, but that the event was for the community first and foremost and that it was on me to educate myself in places I couldn't keep up. I had a chat about this with Joe, the director of the cultural center later at the midnight beach fire. He highlighted how tricky of a line this is to walk, ensuring that people feel welcome but also that the burden of education and reconciliation does not lie with the oppressed - a common theme in many BIPOC movements. I thought they did a stellar job. I left the day with both more knowledge and more questions, that's a win for me.

Some of the best food I've ever had, and the Oolichan Grease was a real treat.

Throughout the day all guests were gifted lunch and dinner. It was so, so, so good. This was really special for me, as it was my first time having both fried Oolichan, as well as Oolichan Grease - a delicacy and rarity of the area. It's got a strong fishy taste, but I really liked it.

After a closing ceremony, the celebration moved from the Big House to Orca's Inn & Pub, where we had the chance to meet some of the other attendees, play pool with our new friends, and even chat with a number of people involved with the movement, from politicians and lawyers to grassroots activists and community organizers.

As Orca's Pub shut down for the evening, the party moved to the Legion, and then to a beach fire... We were awake until the crack of dawn. The goodbyes at the end of the night were hard.

I suck at pool, thankfully I had Megan to carry me that night.

After Toni graciously fed us breakfast & coffee, shuttled us back to camp to pack, and helped us reload our water, we were ready to take off at noon. Bit of a late start. As we were loading our boats, Tim comes walking along the beach with his baby and drum. To help the baby sleep, he said. He helped us take off and sang us the Namgis farewell song as we left... That made me cry. An emotional and special closure to our incredible 48 hours in Alert Bay.

We paddled about 18 NM to Monday Harbour, where Sam & Lisa were with their kids and Masa was with Emma on their boat. We boarded Harmony -- we've gotten much better at it, and cooked up dinner. Later in the evening we headed shore to hang out with Sam, and play with bioluminescence. It was Emma's first experience with it, and she was over the moon. We again spent the night on the sailboat, warm and cozy.

The next morning we embarked, saying yet another round of sad goodbyes to Masa and Emma, before linking up with Sam, Lisa, and the kids. As we were headed out, we got chased down by Alex. Alex is a friend who works in the Broughton as a kayak guide. We hung out as a big group, chatting with the kids and our friends as we slowly trundled on. Alex, Nathan, and I and had lunch, and then Nathan and I split off.

The blind luck of all this was incredible. The weather, the internet, the timing, all of it came together to let Nathan and I see some incredible things, learn a lot about the local First Nations and their fight for reconciliation, and make a number of new friends along the way. We're missing our new friends, grateful for all the hospitality and warmth - both figuratively and literally - that was shared with us, and the efforts of the BATI organization. Kayaking is pretty cool, but it's chance experiences and serendipitous connections like these that are going to be the most memorable of our trip.

From front to back, Nathan, Alex, Sanesh, Lisa, and Sam. Spontaneous kayaking buddies! Shoutout to Alex for sprinting hard to catch us.

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1 Comment

Jill R
Jill R
May 21, 2023

Was Alexandra Morton at the celebration? She’s played a huge roll in getting rid of the farms. Her book “Not on My Watch” chronicles her fight.

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