Part 8: The First Nations People and Race Rocks

This document formed part of the background handout materials for the Race Rocks Ecological Overview at Lester Pearson College in April 1999.
Angus Matthews and myself have met on three occasions with Tom Sampson, elder of the Brentwood First Nations. He and Andy Thomas chief of the Esquimalt Nation have helped us to understand the importance of the coastal areas to their people and their culture. We have, I believe started on a fruitful path in involving local First Nations people in our educational program in the reserve. Acting on Tom’s direction we read the Bamberton report which already lays out in some detail the cultural dependence that first nations people had on the land and the coastal areas of the Salish Sea. He sees that as a valuable model for the way we have to think about the role of First Nations people when we lay out plans for managing protected areas. We have also been in contact with Burt Charles, Chief of Beecher Bay, and his wife Lee who is involved in the school program with the children on the reserve.

For more than just the most recent millennium, people lived and worked as an integral part of the coastal ecosystems of Southern Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They managed the resources for their own survival. They valued the land and the water ecosystems because they did not see themselves as separate from those systems. Place names were important since only through the language can one understand the importance of natural areas to the first nations people.

On a visit to Race Rocks with Tom and Andy and two other elders from North Saanich, Tom told us of the way that his people would use the gull eggs in a sustainable way so that they would always have some for later. Tom said that he will have to get Madeleine Thomas and May Sam to show us how to prepare the gull eggs when they are in season. The sea urchins were also a special food. Their power was such that only those of a certain age could eat them, as the eggs were too strong for the younger people. Sea cucumbers had their top end cut off, were cleaned out and then stuffed with other kinds of food. Mussels and barnacles as well as the myriad of snails, whelks, chitons and other intertidal invertebrates were standard fare for the people. The area also provided a wealth of the standard fish resources. Often seafood that was collected was traded with the interior people from Washington, as far as the South end of Puget Sound.

Tom talked with Thomas Charles*, and his wife, a couple in their eighties who are residents of the Beecher Bay reserve. He wanted to record some of the place names of this corner of Vancouver Island and to get an idea of how their ancestors were part of the ecosystem. Location and language is so important to them when talking about culture. The area from Pedder Bay to Beecher Bay was a community that was totally dependent on the coastal resources well into the twentieth century. Race Rocks “xwuayen”was known as the area in which one could get any kind of food they needed. Thomas Charles remembers his parents going to sell ling cod from Race Rocks the area of ” xwayen” (the fast flowing water) to the buyer in Pedder Bay “Whoayinch” in the 1920’s. Church Island, visible from Race Rocks out in front of Beecher Bay was ” Kquitong”, the Raven’s hang out.
Link to this site for the Klallum language, and a story by Thomas Charles .

Thomas Charles speaks “Klallum” and his wife writes in the language. She wrote the names in their script as he went over a map of the lower part of Vancouver Island. Tom has provided our library with a tape of this conversation and the correct pronunciation of the place names. I have attempted to write a phonetic version of the names here, so further investigation will have to be pursued to ensure their accuracy. (Ed note: the site above has an update on the correct spellings on some of these names. )

Tom says there are only about three of the old people left in this whole region of South Vancouver Island who have recollections of the old ways.

In a few weeks when we can be assured of better weather, Tom is arranging for a group of first nations people to go to visit Race Rocks for a few days so that they may be able to share with us the traditional uses their ancestors made of this area.
** It is with regret that we have received the news in December of 1999, that Thomas Charles has recently passed away.

In our Schools program we take grade seven students from local schools out to Race Rocks from late February to the end of April each year. We are starting to include these stories of First Nations traditional use of the resources. Tom is also interested in having some of the children from the first nations school come with some elders and share the ideas of how this place would have been used by their ancestors to provide all their food needs. In Appendix 3 of this report is a copy of the section from the Bombarding Report on the Marine Resources used by First Nations. We intend to produce with the help of local first nations people, a similar reference, specific to the resources of the Juan de Fuca area..

This paper was written for the Race Rocks Ecological Overview workshop

Garry Fletcher, April 1999