When will we be able to harvest shellfish again? How are fish affected by pollution? Is it safe to swim in the water? What is the state of the Inlet? These are the questions that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation asked themselves as they developed a community-based Marine Stewardship Plan for Burrard Inlet.
The Tsleil-Waututh, meaning “the People of the Inlet,” have always been sustained by the natural bounty of fish and shellfish from the waters just north of Vancouver. But in recent years the Inlet has been put under pressure: three million people in British Columbia live within the Georgia Basin, and most of the shoreline of the main Inlet is now industrial. Several forms of pollution have affected the Inlet’s clam beds. For the first time in their history, the Tsleil-Waututh stopped harvesting or eating the wild food that has sustained them for millennia.
In 2007, the Tsleil-Waututh began implementing their plan by testing the waters of Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm for water quality, shellfish contamination, and other potential impacts on human health.
“The Inlet and Indian Arm have been a source of sustenance for the Tsleil-Waututh people since time out of mind,” says Chief Leah George-Wilson. “Our Elders taught us that when the tide went out, the table was set. Industrial development over the past 75 years has made it impossible for our children to enjoy the natural resources that our grandmothers and grandfathers enjoyed.”
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is now taking a leadership role to protect and restore the region’s ecological balance. With its Marine Stewardship Plan, the First Nation is plotting the course for restoration.
In 2007, a Tsleil-Waututh Marine Stewardship team in partnership with Environment Canada took 260 water samples from 15 locations around the inlet. They also conducted shoreline assessments, mapping the environmental condition of the tidal zone.
Ecotrust Canada helped provide funding for the program and also worked with the Tsleil-Waututh to produce a “State of the Inlet” newsletter for their community.