Why coastal First Na­tions in B.C. are re­viv­ing their an­cient clam gar­dens

Once long-ne­glected, the an­cient prac­tice of cre­at­ing clam gar­dens is again help­ing forge links be­tween gen­er­a­tions of First Na­tions peo­ple in coastal Bri­tish Columbia

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Ryan Stu­art

TO­DAY, A SCHOOL BELL marks the be­gin­ning of class, but for thou­sands of years it was the rise and fall of the tides that sig­nalled to First Na­tions of the Bri­tish Columbia coast that it was time to learn. Their class­rooms were clam gar­dens, rock walls built near the low-tide line and used to ex­tend and cre­ate habi­tat not only for clams but for all man­ner of other ed­i­ble marine species, in­clud­ing crabs, urchins, kelp and fish. “Clam gar­dens chal­lenge stereo­types that the peo­ple of the Bri­tish Columbia coast were only hunter-gath­er­ers,” says Ni­cole Smith, an in­de­pen­dent arche­ol­o­gist who has been study­ing the gar­dens since 2008 and a co-or­di­na­tor of t he Clam Garden Net­work, a group that stud­ies the cul­tural and eco­log­i­cal im­por­tance of clam gar­dens and tra­di­tional clam man­age­ment in Bri­tish Columbia and the states of Wash­ing­ton and Alaska. “It was mar­i­cul­ture on an in­dus­trial scale, but we also know that the gar­dens were a place where el­ders ed­u­cated the youth.” Smith be­lieves it was while work­ing the gar­dens that el­ders taught the youth their cul­ture’s oral tra­di­tions and knowl­edge. Res­i­den­tial schools and the move­ment of First Na­tions peo­ple onto re­serves al­tered this ex­change, how­ever, rob­bing sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of learn­ing how to main­tain and har­vest the gar­dens, hun­dreds of which have been found across the Pa­cific North­west since arche­ol­o­gists, ge­ol­o­gists and ecol­o­gists from across the re­gion started look­ing for them in the 1990s. Al­though they’ve largely been for­got­ten for half a cen­tury, these marine farms are now help­ing re­store that an­cient link via a six-year, $1-mil­lion ini­tia­tive called Lis­ten­ing to the Sea, Look­ing to the Fu­ture: Clam Garden Restora­tion Project, which be­gan in 2014 in Gulf Is­lands Na­tional Park Re­serve. Jointly led by the Hul’q’umi’num’ and WSÁNEC First Na­tions of south­ern Vancouver Is­land and Parks Canada, the project is work­ing to re-es­tab­lish clam gar­dens that have lain dor­mant for decades and study­ing the im­pact of the struc­tures on in­ter­tidal ecosys­tems. “It’s partly an eco­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment, but it’s also meant to bring el­ders and youth to­gether on the beaches again,” says Skye Au­gus­tine, the Parks Canada em­ployee who co-or­di­nates the project. “It has cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties for Coast Sal­ish El­ders and knowl­edge hold­ers to share their knowl­edge with chil­dren and youth.” “Clam gar­dens are liv­ing land­scapes,” says Smith, a con­sul­tant on the project. “They have so much to teach us. Bring­ing stu­dents here embraces the spirit of the clam garden as a place of learn­ing.”

A Parks Canada staff mem­ber and a group of Coast Sal­ish peo­ple take turns dig­ging on a beach near a clam garden in Gulf Is­lands Na­tional Park Re­serve, B.C.

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