Pebbles smooth from centuries of tides, bleached logs and rambling hills culminate to a siren song for visitors to Chatham and Discovery islands.
On a sunny summer day a pair of young men beach their small outboard and settle in to the task of anchoring to shore.
A group on the beach point toward signs indicating the historical territory, and bylaw officer Trevor Absolon lopes down the beach towards the pair. Today they’ll learn a lesson about the island: it is private property belonging to the Songhees First Nation. That education is part of the wave of the future.
“We’re going out of our way to try to educate public. We’re not trying to prosecute people; we need to help them learn,” the bylaw officer said. Informing the two young men is part of that process. Added signage includes Cattle Point and Oak Bay Marina boat launches where notices alert those launching craft to be aware of the First Nation territories and that trespassing rules are in effect.
“These islands as you can see, they’re beautiful, they’re tantalizing,” Absolon said, sweeping his across the beach visage. “People want to find out what’s out there. They want to visit these locations. The problem is they’ve failed to understand over the years, probably because there hasn’t been enough public awareness out there, that these are established Indian Reserves. Therefore they’re private lands and they’re not open to the public.”
Chatham Island and a chunk of Discovery – the portion that is not provincial park – belong to the Songhees nation.
“We need to really start looking after what we have,” said Songhees Coun. Ron Sam. “We didn’t have the assets to properly look after the islands (before).”
Through taxation, Songhees funded a zodiac this summer to patrol the waters.
“It’s going to be seeing a lot of water time,” Absolon said. “We’ll also be patrolling the islands with the RCMP South Island Marine Unit … these are joint patrols and there will also be individual and they’ll include foot patrols of the islands.”
Songhees First Nation Law Enforcement will now aggressively patrol Chatham and Discovery in conjunction with the RCMP South Island Marine Section by boat and on foot. Violators could face up to a $1,000 fine, 30 days in jail, or both if caught trespassing on Songhees lands.
“Until recently we haven’t had the assets to get there. Now we do. And we will be patrolling (the islands) and we will be enforcing our jurisdiction on them,” Absolon said.
Sam sees future prospects for sharing and maintaining tradition. There are opportunities for the band to create business models in the tourism industry.
And even now on Chatham, off the picturesqe shores of Oak Bay, spots on the beach with overturned soil mark where summer pit cook outs helped the Songhees nation maintain a piece of history and share it with future generations.
Part 3 in a series looking at why and how the Songhees First Nation is protecting its private property on Chatham and Discovery islands.
Part 1: Songhees reclaim historic land