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Salmonberry Season

Last Wednesday, during our June Community Call, we began with introductions as usual. During Mentor Emily White’s (Tla’amin and Klahoose) introduction, she shared that she had enjoyed her first t̓ɛnɛqʷ (salmonberry) of the season that week, finding happiness and gratitude in the experience. Her comment made me realize that I hadn’t yet tasted my first salmonberry this year.

When I moved to Vancouver Island in 2013, I had never even heard of a salmonberry. Growing up on Treaty 2 Territory, I was more familiar with saskatoons, which my parents would bribe us into picking in our family pasture. While working in Stz’uminus First Nation, I often slipped out of the health unit during lunch to stretch my legs. It wasn’t uncommon for a coworker or community member to join me, and through these relationships, I learned about the seasonal berry cycle and the native berries of this place.

Now, salmonberries signal the start of summer for me, followed by thimbleberries, abundant blackberries, and finally bright red huckleberries, indicating summer’s end. (I’m sure there are many more I have yet to discover—I’m still learning!)

The day after our gathering, I slipped out of the health centre at lunchtime, heading to the familiar trail behind the centre and schools. As I walked under the canopy, I felt the tension leave my body. The forest is a special place, and the rustling leaves mingled with the happy voices of children playing on the playground. Thinking of Emily’s salmonberry, I scanned the trailside for the jewel-colored fruit. It only took a moment to find one, and I quickly enjoyed my first berry of the season.

Reflecting on the certainty of the berry cycle, I recalled words from Jared Qwustenuxun William of Quw’utsun: “We are the environment.” It got me thinking that the rhythms of nature are difficult to interrupt. We’ve seen the consequences of trying to control it—the ​draining of Sumas Lake and the eventual flooding of Sumas Prairie​ come to mind. When man-made structures fail, nature always reclaims its space.

As I walked the trail, I related Jared’s statement to the resilience of First Nations peoples and cultures. "We are the environment". Despite colonial attempts to interrupt and eradicate the First Peoples, they remain part of the cycle. They have persevered quietly but unceasingly, proliferating despite oppression. Nature is powerful, and just as man cannot interrupt its resilience, the enduring strength of First Nations cultures continues. On the West Coast, we are witnessing the revitalization of First Nations culture and language in a way that has not been observed in over a hundred years, and the promise of that renewal fills me with hope and excitement.

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