September 07, 2017

Alert Bay, BC

Alert Bay is on Cormorant Island, which is 4.9 km in length, and 800 metres at its narrowest point. It's an easy walk-about.

The 'Namgis First Nation has the largest population on the island, with 750 people.  The Village of Alert Bay has a population of 440 people, and the remainder of the island's population, approximately 250, are of the Whe-la-la-u Area Council representing seven Kwakwaka'wakw Tribes.

Today, there is harmony on the island. The citizens who share Cormorant Island's compact area have developed a philosophy of neighbourliness, and in our brief time here we were impressed by the friendly and outgoing hospitality of the people.

In 1999,  and renewed in 2012, the Alert Bay Accord, between the Village and the 'Namgis First Nation, was the first agreement of its kind between a municipality and First Nations Band in Canada. It describes common goals and pledges mutual support in civic and cultural matters affecting both jurisdictions.

That mutually beneficial relationship has not always existed.

For thousands of years Cormorant Island, or Yalis, was populated by a great nation of seagoing people who called themselves the Kwakwaka’wakw. One of their most influential sub-groups lived along the rich valley of the river on Vancouver Island and these were the ‘Namgis.

Local history tells the story of strange looking men arriving in 1792 CE. The ship was Discovery and the captain's name was Vancouver. Everything changed.

This island, and the entire region, was rich in furs, salmon, coal, timber, gold and more. There was seemingly an unlimited abundance. The newcomers, took and took and took, and what seemed an inexhaustible resource was depleted.

This is a beautiful place. The people are wonderful. There is still fishing, and trapping, and much more. Though not in the same way as before the invasion.

During one of our walk-abouts, Jeem was invited to go fishing with a First Nations group and had to decline as we were leaving the same day. The invitation stands. And we hope to return.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

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