The Tsleil-Waututh Nation says urban runoff is “disastrous to our way of life.”
““This little corner of the world is often in the top five – and sometimes number one – for best place to live, and yet we pump sewage into our waterways,” Gabriel George said.
Səlilwət, now known as Burrard Inlet, was home to the Tsleil-Waututh people for centuries but with the industrialization and urbanization that came with contact, the waterways and shorelines changed radically; It has become polluted and changed the way the nation interacts with the land.
“The cumulative impacts have been truly catastrophic to our way of life,” said George, director of the country’s Department of Treaties, Lands and Resources. “In the late 1990s, we couldn’t do some of our ceremonies in our sewers here because they were too polluted.
“Səlilwət is more than just a dream habitat for salmon, which is vital to our people and other species – it is also a spiritual place.”
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has been working for years to revitalize and protect the inlet and surrounding areas. They recently launched the Story Map, Restore health portalhoping to engage the community in its protection while highlighting a misunderstood impact on the gateway: urban runoff.
For the Tsleilu Wotot people, Burrard Inlet is “our grandmother, our womb, our first mother,” George explains. The entrance is something the Tsleil-Waututh people have a strong connection to.
For thousands of years, Burrard Inlet and the surrounding area have supported the Tsleil-Wauthoth people.
“Food was our economy, our food, our everything, our entire life,” George said.
“And within 200 years of contact, they were almost completely wiped out – I think we lost more than 1,200 hectares of coastline, which is about half the coastline, we lost to industrialization and urbanization.”
The community knows its lands better than anyone else as the original stewards of the land.
“We felt the story map project was very important,” George said. “To show that we can all contribute a little, and by doing so, we will help the entrance.”
The story map explains the Tsleil-Waututh relationship with the region over time, how industrialization and urbanization have had a negative impact on land and waterways and how Vancouverites and others throughout the Lower Mainland can contribute by doing things like using environmentally friendly household products. Install rain barrels and pick up pet waste.
“It’s a model for the way we communicate, teach and speak,” George said. “We want to empower people to feel like they can make a difference.”
Anu Rao is one of the country’s leading environmental specialists focusing on marine ecosystems. Her work has been looking at what’s in the inlet, how it gets there and how səlilwət can be protected to uphold the values Tsleil-Waututh holds while ensuring the community is able to harvest oysters again.
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“One of the largest and most poorly understood sources of pollution in the inlet is runoff from urban and industrial areas,” Rao said. “It is incomprehensible and poorly managed.“
“We all have a role to play — Very few people know that anything that gets into a storm drains either directly or eventually into the ocean“.
George said there are about 28 sewer lines leading to the entrance and more than 700 contaminated materials.
“It’s a big problem, a big issue but there are things we can do to manage it at the family and system level,” George said. “There are better wastewater management and stormwater management practices in place.
“Our natural resource technicians are just one part, they monitor the water quality, monitor the inlet and help restore it – we are in this together and the ultimate goal is to restore the environment.”
All the work that led to a story map has been happening for generations, and involves years of data crunching and mapping.
“What we do is very solutions-focused,” Rao said. “Instead of just letting it be a problem, we give people answers or ideas because there will be something they can do about it.“
“Environmental issues can be[overwhelming],” George adds. “How can we fix this mess? Well, we can by doing our part.”“
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(tags for translation) Tsleil-Wauthoth Nation