To the untrained eye, it may just look like a stretch of marshy grass (albeit a pleasantly lush one). But for those in the know, it’s a site of deep cultural and ecological significance.
Along the banks of the sc̓e:ɬxʷəy̓əm (Salmon River) in Langley, in the shared territory of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo, and Matsqui Nations, this parcel of land underwent a massive transformation.
It’s part of an ongoing project by Rivershed Society of BC’s Foodlands Corridor Restoration Program, which works with local Indigenous communities and knowledge keepers, along with agricultural landholders and other community stakeholders, to restore parcels of culturally- and ecologically-valuable land along the stɑl̓əw̓ (Fraser River).
In an act of decolonization, Foodlands collaborated with knowledge keepers and speakers from the Kwantlen and Katzie Nations, who translated the names of important locations, plants, and animals into dialects of Halkomelem (Halq’eméylem is Upriver dialect; hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ is the Downriver one). Foodlands leads with these traditional names on all of its web materials and regulatory government documents (and, out of respect, we have done the same here).
“We are giving emphasis and centering traditional language because these are the territories of these people and these nations, and therefore common and scientific names are not really relevant,” says landscape architect and Foodlands project consultant Lara Volgyesi via video. “It should be a requirement to work with the local nations and to get those translations into the regulatory process. That way, there’s a more engaged and collaborative approach to the way that we come into the restoration work.”
Once covered with invasive reed canary grass, the area on the banks of the sc̓e:ɬxʷəy̓əm has since been replanted with endemic species that provide local kwóxweth/kʷəxʷəθ with protective overhead cover and an expanded wetted habitat (kwóxweth is Halq’eméylem for coho salmon, while kʷəxʷəθ is hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓). The river has also seen its eroded bank restored and stabilized, and its overall aquatic biodiversity increased.
A Foodlands corridor is created when adjacent sections of privately-held land are connected and restored to the benefit of the area’s endemic plants and animals. Using what Volgyesi calls a “two-eyed-seeing approach,” the Foodlands program, which recently won an Edge Prize for its work, combines Western science and landscape planning with traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge and values. The result is a healthy food system—and a healthy dose of land justice.
“The reason that I feel really excited and passionate to be working on this program is because the benefits extend beyond the ecological,” says Foodlands program coordinator Emily Pearson, who is Stellat’en and grew up in her traditional territory in BC’s Nechako region. “I think that when we talk about habitat restoration, a lot of people focus on the area that we’ve restored, or how many wildlife we have restored habitat for—but it’s extending much beyond that into the cultural reclamation, cultural visibility, and restoration through there. Bringing traditional ecological knowledge into habitat restoration is so important.”
For the sc̓e:ɬxʷəy̓əm corridor project, Foodlands is collaborating with səýeḿ Qwantlen (the business subsidiary of Kwantlen First Nation), Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, Langley Environmental Partners Society, Kerr Wood Leidal, and key landholders. The program has already restored seven parcels along the corridor, with 12,000 endemic plants added and 1.1 hectares of land rehabilitated (plus the goal of adding another 1.5 to 2.5 hectares).
“I think of this as the restoration of connections—restoring these broken connections,” says Volgyesi. “What I love about this program is that it does bring people together who wouldn’t ordinarily get into the same room. Foodlands really is a values-based approach to how we address so many issues—so many different ways of being and doing in the world.”
Many Indigenous communities still rely on the stɑl̓əw̓ for their food and livelihoods. Unsurprisingly, colonial practices like modern farming have degraded the area’s natural ecosystems. Also unsurprisingly, Canada has historically done a poor job of involving and consulting these communities in its conservation efforts. Foodlands combats this with a thoughtful and careful outreach plan, ensuring the team is focusing energy on the most high-priority parcels of land and engaging the right people.
“I think that habitat restoration is seen as a fairly new field in colonial terms,” says Pearson. “But Indigenous people have been stewarding the land for many, many, many years.”