- The Westshore
- Municipal bylaws still reflect biases against First Nations cultural practices
Municipal bylaws still reflect biases against First Nations cultural practices
In some Westshore municipalities, Indigenous food sovereignty may contravene existing laws
Photo: Stock Photo
In British Columbia, urban First Nations peoples still face significant challenges to preserving and practicing their traditional cultural activities around hunting, gathering and the preservation of food. Any urban environment presents a unique set of obstacles to maintaining cultural practices in communities off and away from traditional territories or reserves and the natural resources that sustain them.
The Ditidaht, Songhees, Esquimalt and Pacheedaht—the “People of the Seafoam”—people living in the Westshore have deep-rooted cultural connections to hunting, fishing, and gathering. As the original inhabitants on the Westshore along the Salish Sea—a region that remains abundant in fish, seafood, deer, fowl and small game—it has become difficult to maintain traditional animal hunting and processing traditions, due to the laws governing the lives of residents outside of their communities.
On reserve, the issue is moot. “Every harvest we fill our freezers with a bounty of food for winter while ensuring the sustainability for future generations,” says the Pacheedaht Nation website. Indigenous people hunting on their own territories are not subject to BC hunting regulations such as bag limits or species limits but they are subject to them if they wish to hunt off of their territories.
“The land, the waters, the resources, the environment have always been the source of life, culture, and spirituality of the Ditidaht People,” says that nation’s website. The Songhees Nation has a population of 600. Half of its members reside on Songhees Reserve #1A adjacent to the Township of Esquimalt and the Town of View Royal. That township’s bylaw 900 prohibits the processing of poultry and fish in private homes.
Westshore municipalities like Sooke and Langford are not far from traditional food sources and yet, bylaws remain on their books that present challenges to First Nations people who might want to carry out traditional ways of processing and storing traditional foods on their private property.
Moving to more urban settings, like Langford, View Royal, and Sooke can limit access to these essential cultural activities, disrupting the intergenerational transmission of knowledge like the processing, curing and storage of fish, and curing animal hides.
Additionally, the loss of communal spaces that support these traditional practices, makes it difficult for urban First Nations to engage in these culturally significant activities. Because it’s never just about the process but also the intergenerational social connections and informal transfer of knowledge that takes place in those communal settings doing communal work.
According to Langford bylaw 300.02.02, the following are prohibited in every type of zone: (10) Boiling of Blood, Bone, Soap, and Tripe (the edible lining of stomach of domesticated farm animals); (12) Extracting Oil from Fish; (13) Storing Hides; (15) Slaughtering of animals. It is legal to hunt animals on the Island—bear, deer, wolf, and smaller game as well. There is a list of provincially licensed abattoirs and kill spaces provided by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. Most full-animal butchers are in Victoria.
Helen Jones, fisheries manager from Pacheedaht First Nation said that First Nation people living off reserves are often prohibited from doing their cultural practices but said that often “there are community health and safety considerations involved in these laws.”
The processing of animals in private homes in British Columbia raises significant health and safety concerns, encompassing both the well-being of individuals engaged in these activities and the potential risks to public health.
One primary concern is the lack of proper processing and cleaning facilities and equipment in private homes, which may lead to inadequate sanitation and hygiene during the animal processing process. Improper handling and storage of raw meat can result in cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illnesses, posing a direct threat to the health of those involved in the processing and any consumers who may come into contact with the end products.
“I think about the flies and I think about waste-attracting animals and all the challenges that we have, even within our own community of being really mindful when animals are hunted and disposing of things like that,” said Jones.
The absence of regulatory oversight in private home animal processing introduces a potential lack of accountability for ensuring compliance with health and safety standards. In commercial settings, there are strict regulations and inspections in place to monitor and enforce proper practices. In contrast, the informal nature of home-based processing may lead to the neglect of crucial safety measures, such as proper waste disposal, equipment sterilization, and temperature control. This poses a heightened risk of contamination and the transmission of diseases.
“A lot of these rules are antiquated,” Jones said, “and perhaps they have a time and a place to be challenged. But it definitely is a challenge to have it written like that in black and white.” Jones hopes there is a process to revisit these bylaws and refine them.
Striking a legislative balance between urban First Nations cultural practices around food gathering, preparation and storage and public health safeguards is crucial for mitigating the risks associated with animal processing in private homes while supporting Indigenous food sovereignty. Surely a more collaborative effort can be made between Island Health agencies and municipalities where large numbers of First Nations people reside to provide resources to ensure that home-based animal processing adheres to the necessary health and safety standards while preserving cultural practices without fear of penalty.