Above the COP26 cafeteria hangs a gleaming art installation titled School of salmon. Made with over 500 pieces of mirrored glass and designed by Joseph Rossano, an artist from Washington state, the piece was inspired by the Skagit River that runs down the west coast and its once mighty, now dwindling salmon corridor.
In one of those strange ways in which life imitates art, outside the Glasgow building that houses Rossano’s work runs the River Clyde, once also teeming with salmon and whose population has now shrunk to distressingly low numbers. .
Inside the UN climate summit venue, it is advertised that sandwiches and salads are made with “Scottish salmon.” But the ads don’t mention that this salmon came from a pen in the North Atlantic and no longer from the rivers of Scotland.
Not surprisingly, salmon was present at an international conference on climate change. They are critical to hundreds of communities around the world. Their presence and size are a measure of the health of an ecosystem.
Where I live in British Columbia, salmon is at the center of the cultural and spiritual life of indigenous communities along the coast. Unfortunately, they are also under great threat. Without swift action to protect the fragile ancient ecosystems on which they not only depend, but also play a huge role, the salmon rivers in British Columbia will soon be as arid as the Clyde.
Salmon is a keystone species that is critical to holding the web of life together. They are one of the main sources of food for bears and killer whales, and one of the reasons why the primary forests that remain in British Columbia are among the largest in the world. When animals and birds feed on salmon, they tend to leave the bones on the forest floor, and these remains continue fertilize towering trees.
I was recently walking through the Kwakwaka’wakw territory with Suzanne Simard, author of Find the mother tree. As we followed a trail of salmon bones that had been left on the moss and roots, he explained that “we should learn to see them as salmon forests. “The union of land and sea linked by salmon is possibly the most important ecological phenomenon affecting the carbon cycle and biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest.
What people are reading
This means that the reciprocal relationship between forests and salmon cannot be isolated if we are to act on the climate and biodiversity emergency effectively. In other words, we need a watershed approach.
There was a speech from India Logan-Riley that went viral during COP26.
“Hands and minds made this world present, and therefore it is also hands, hearts, and minds that can remake it. And it is the indigenous and frontline communities that are leading this remodeling … What we do works. Faced with mediocre leadership, indigenous peoples shine. All of this is to say that climate change is the end result of the colonial project and in our response, we must be decolonial, ”he told world leaders.
Salmon is at the center of the cultural and spiritual life of indigenous communities along the west coast. Unfortunately, they are also under great threat, writes @Flossbaker. #ClimateEmergency #cdnpoli #BCpoli
One example that stands out in British Columbia is the concept of salmon parks. This idea was launched by the northern nations of Nuu-Chah-Nulth on Vancouver Island to revive and restore salmon populations in their rivers.
What is special about salmon farms is that every decision made in a watershed must be for the exclusive benefit of salmon. We know that because of their reciprocal relationship, everything that benefits salmon benefits forests and vice versa. This means that bad logging practices would not be allowed in salmon watersheds. And since these forests are huge carbon sequesters, what’s good for forests is good for our climate in general.
One of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth nations, the Nuchatlaht, is in the process of taking the British Columbia government to court to regain its title to the property. If they win, their transformative vision of land stewardship will come true. This project and the upcoming court case were featured in a speech at COP26 attended by Tyee Ha’wilth (hereditary chief) of Nuchatlaht Jordan Michael.
“There are dire predictions for the future of salmon on the coast… rising temperatures are cooking them in the rivers, and they are a luxury in the supermarket. Heat waves will increasingly threaten these fish, ”explained Michael.
“We are in the middle of a groundbreaking court case to regain ownership of our territory on Nootka Island. We are pressing the governments of Canada and British Columbia to honor their reconciliation commitments. And we are here to support the fight against climate change, “he said.
For almost two weeks, the halls of COP26 were filled with empty topics and false solutions. Nation states and corporations extolled the virtues of “net zero” schemes that allow countries to offset their emissions. Through all this white noise, the case for the Nuchatlaht Nation title and the vision of salmon parks are changing the conversation about how the arc of justice could tilt toward a healthy and sustainable future for all who call home to. the West Coast.
As Mark Worthing, my colleague from Sierra Club BC says, “We are all people from the salmon forest. Whether you think of yourself this way or not, if you live in the territories known as British Columbia, your entire life is influenced by the continuing legacy of wild salmon and old-growth forests. “
Looking towards him School of salmon installation, the faces of all of us in the cafeteria are reflected in the fish made of shiny and mirrored glass.
May we remember in time our obligation to salmon and that our destinies are tied.
Florence (Flossie) Baker is the lead organizer for Sierra Club BC. Her passion is supporting different communities to get involved in building a new story about the future we face.