Returning the Bones: Darren Blaney, Keeping Faith with Tradition

Darren Blaney

Darren Blaney is a former chief of the Homalco First Nation, the northern-most of the Salish Sea tribes, near Campbell River, B.C. Photo by Liam Moriarty

The northern tip of the Salish Sea is the place where the Campbell River on Vancouver Island empties into Georgia Strait.

This week we wrap up our series “Reflections on the Water,” as KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty talks with Darren Blaney, a wood carver and former chief of the Homalco First Nation, which is based in Campbell River.

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Liam Moriarty: We’re standing near the mouth of the Campbell River as it empties out into Georgia Strait … (bird call) Kingfisher there …You started to tell me a story about that tall mountain off in the distance.

Darren Blaney: Yeah; in our language, that mountain is called Potham. It means the shoots that are coming out of the ground in spring. That mountain has a bit of a bump on there, so it looks like the shoots so that’s what it reminded our people of. That’s where our people landed during the flood.

Liam: Are we talking about the biblical flood?

Darren: There are many communities along the coast that have a flood story, so yeah; it’s fairly common in the First Nations along the coast here in B.C.

Liam: The Homalco are the northern-most of the Salish Tribes here on the Salish Sea?

Darren: Yes; we’re the northern most. We have Quagueth that are our neighbors; they migrated into this area, when the fur trade was going on in the 1800s.

Liam: Another aspect of Salish Sea native culture are the canoes. You were recently on a – paddled a canoe over to the mainland. In  Vancouver; tell me about that.

Darren: We joined up with the flotilla that was coming down from Hope. They were gathering in Vancouver to send a message to the Cohen Commission that’s investigating the state of the sockeye stocks last year when hardly any sockeye returned. There’s a commission that was set up …

Liam: To try to figure out where did all the fish go last year.

Darren: Hmm hmm. So we paddled over from Victoria in our canoe.

Liam: I’ve never been in one of those canoes. They look like amazing craft. I’ve done a lot of kayaking but that’s a one-person or a two- person craft. You’ve got a whole crew that paddles a canoe.

Looking southeast across Georgia Strait, from a beach near Campbell River, past the south tip of Quadra Island, toward the Candian Coast Range. Photo by Liam Moriarty

Estero Peak (5459 feet/1664 meters) lies north of Campbell River, B.C. The mountain figures prominently in the Homalco creation story. Photo by Liam Moriarty

Darren: Yeah; some of them get pretty big. Some get up to 40, 50 feet. Ours is a 32-foot canoe, and was built by our relatives from Squamish. A lot of work went into it. It will hold seven, fairly comfortably. That’s what we paddled with when we went across. There was a big storm that came on when we were crossing, about 4-foot waves we were riding in our canoe. It was a pretty good test for the canoe and I think it did well.

Liam: But how ‘bout you guys; how do those craft handle in heavy weather like that?

Darren Blaney explains this photo from his family archives: "This long canoe was being carved by my great grandfather Johnny Blaney around 1935, for King George's visit to Vancouver. My grandfather Henry Blaney is standing by the canoe in front of our church while some are by the church with paddles and kids on the top of the porch and stairs." (Courtesy of Darren Blaney)

Darren: It did pretty good. It handled the waves well, we rode the waves well.  Some of them, you have to meet them head on when they’re big waves but other than that sometimes you have to paddle pretty hard in order to keep yourself fairly stable, otherwise it can get pretty wobbly, if you’re going sideways on the waves. You have to paddle pretty hard to stay upright.


Liam: Can you talk about the place that the salmon had in your peoples’ history?

Darren: Our people relied on the salmon so heavily. There is a story of these kids that were told to bring all the bones –you’re supposed to bring all the bones back into the water – and it sort of keeps that cycle going, the salmon returning. One of the young boys in the story didn’t return all the bones. When he returned from the river, part of his face was missing.

The elders looked into it and realized he hadn’t returned all the bones. They found that bone and then they returned it, and once he returned it, he was whole again. His face was back again. To me it just says that if something happens to the salmon, it happens to us.

Liam: With that in mind, you’ve got a lot of concerns about the proliferation of open net salmon farming here. There’s a lot of that up here in Georgia Strait, in B.C. What are your concerns about that?

Darren: We’ve been doing some testing, I guess on the most obvious which is the sea lice issue.

Liam: Let’s first explain a little bit; what are sea lice? They’re a parasite on the salmon?

A marker in Campbell River denotes 50 degrees of north latitude, the northern edge of the Salish Sea. Photo by Liam Moriarty

Darren: Yeah; they’re a parasite on the salmon and they come on salmon naturally. When there are wild salmon going by, they might have a few sea lice on them and that’s really harmless at that point, but when you get a million salmon in an open net cage, then they tend to multiply. And because of the sea lice, they put a lot of chemicals into the feed of the salmon, and that gets into our ecosystem. We believe it’s a big part of the disappearance of the salmon stocks.

Liam: Darren, thanks for having me out today. It’s gorgeous out here, and we managed to catch it while there was still some sun.

Darren: Thank you for letting me share our concerns and our history of the Salish Sea. Y’know, all my relations are along the sea, the Salish Sea.

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