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For centuries, Indigenous peoples have suffered under colonialization. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission report, however, delivered a potent jolt to Canadians. Pender Island and the southern Gulf Islands have listened and provide inspirational examples.

Pender initiatives focused on understanding Tsawout First Nation culture and building bridges with them (although the Tsawout no longer live on Pender but on the nearby Saanich Peninsula).

The Pender Reconciliation Circle was formed and organized numerous projects, which continue today, including films, language workshops, seminars, demonstrations and more.Mother Bear Totem on Red Dress Day at Community Hall, Pender Island.

One presentation featured Bob Watts, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission Executive Director, then CEO of the Assembly of First Nations and a member of the Six Nations Nation. Watts later said, “the [Pender Island] circle is truly one of the most special experiences I have had. It reinforces my belief in the goodness of Canadians.”

An Aboriginal Cultural Festival was celebrated with a First Nations skill demonstration, history telling, a guided walk and a pot-luck feast with traditional entertainment. The South Pender Historical Society organized a First Nations history seminar series. At one meeting, the audience learned about reef-net fishing, banned by the federal government, and its importance to Salish First Nations.

Sencoten language class conducted by Tsawout First Nation on Pender Island.A traditional fire-pit was built at the school where annual roasts are attended by students from the Pender and Tsawout schools. Of particular note, a student leadership program with six students from each school was established.

A two-day First Nations celebration in 2017 included a workshop on the Tsawout language, an ethnobotany plant walk and the unveiling of a permanent 13 Moon Calendar, which describes the close relationship of the Coast Salish people’s lives with nature. The celebration culminated in a traditional salmon pit cook with an emotional Karios Blanket exercise, which moved many to tears.

Kairos blanket exercise conducted by Tsawout First Nation on Pender Isladn.At Mayne Island an Honouring Figure in Emma and Felix Jack Park welcomes visitors with outstretched arms.

Galiano Island has been inhabited by the Penelakut First Nation for at least 3,000 years. In 2019, Penelakut knowledge holders presented a well attended workshop on how to process native black-tail deer into sausages and other meats.

At Saturna, a 13-Moon Calendar display, similar to the one on Pender, was installed, organized by the Elders to Elders group.

The EÁĆES Climate Action Project has just finished delivering 3 five-day educational courses on Pender Island that combine climate science with the holistic Traditional Knowledge of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. This ambitious program was very successful.

It’s heart-warming that reconciliation is making progress.

13 Moon Calendar on Pender Island.

 

Photos:

Red dress hangs at Pender Island Community Hall.

Class on Tsawout language (Pender Island)

Kairos Blanket exercise (Pender Island)

13 Moon Calendar on Saturna Island (credit: Monica Morten)

 

I lace up my hiking boots, but where to go? Should I ramble in the still, sombre forest surrounded by moss, ferns and giant trees? Or should I walk along rocky beaches communing with sea stars and barnacle encrusted rocks? Or should I climb to a viewpoint and gaze upon a panorama of islands sprinkled on the waters as though by the hand of God? I decide to set out on a quest and seek out the very best hiking trail in this gaggle of islands.

Stream along Chris Hatfield trail, Salt Spring Island BCOn my island of Pender, walking trails are abundant and I know them well. My favourite is George Hill where I’m soon labouring uphill, through moist forest and then a meadow and onto the summit. I sit next to a spindly Garry oak, watching ferries and the distant snow-capped mountains on the mainland. Ah, wonderful.

At Galiano Island, the choices are many, but the Bodega Ridge trail draws me. I stroll along humming and happy passing ramrod-straight Douglas firs, which are like battalions of tall, slim soldiers standing at attention. But interspersed here and there in their ranks, mockingly, are gangling arbutus trees, chaotic like hippies. What a blessing to be alone, immersed in nature.

Couple gazes at ferry at Roesland, Pender Island BCMy quest continues. Disembarking from the ferry at Mayne Island, I check the trail map and head for the Halliday Ridge hike in Mount Parke Regional Park. The deep forest and views from the top are wonderful, but best is hearing a loud rat-atat-atat and then seeing a pileated woodpecker, its red head a blur as it attacks an old log, sending wood chips flying.

Saturna Island is next, and soon I am at the top of Mount Warburton Pike. Gazing at the isle-dotted Salish Sea, I can’t argue with those who judge the Pike the finest lookout in the Gulf Islands. I meander south-east along the Brown Ridge trail wrapped in sunshine and peaceful solitude. The walk is special for the trail was made not by humans but, most unusually, by resident feral goats, whom I can see grazing here and there farther down the hillside.

Another ferry carries me to Salt Spring Island where I seek out the Chris Hatfield trail in the northern edge of Ruckle Park. I sit beside a pond, where reflections of towering trees and a split-rail fence glisten in the water. I continue deeper into the lush rain forest, passing trees whose branches are festooned with beards of bright green moss. Under a tree are a shovel, several buckets and a sign inviting hikers to dig up gravel, fix part of the trail farther along and return the empty pail on return. What a clever idea! At Yeo Point I sat with my back against a sun-warmed boulder gazing at passing boats and ferries. Following a creek upstream, the gurgling of water grows louder until I see rapids swirling and tumbling down moss encrusted rocks, surrounded by ferns and tall trees.

Enjoying view of the Salish Sea from George Hill, Pender Island BCI return home having hiked many great trails. But I think I’ll have to do it all over again, for I can’t decide which one is best.