SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ - "Taking Care of Sidney Island Project"

Since 2019, Parks Canada has been working collaboratively with W̱SÁNEĆ and Cowichan Nations, Sidney Island residents, the Province of British Columbia, and Islands Trust Conservancy to facilitate the recovery of the Coastal Douglas-fir forest on SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island). 

Indigenous stewardship

SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island) is within the traditional territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples, who have stewarded the lands and waters in and around Gulf Islands National Park Reserve since time immemorial. Parks Canada is committed to the crucial work of reconciliation. With SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ, which means, “Taking Care of Sidney Island Project,” Parks Canada is working closely with Indigenous communities in a way that aligns with W̱SÁNEĆ values and teachings

Click to hear the pronunciation of SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ, which means Taking Care of Sidney Island Project, in the W̱SÁNEĆ language of SENĆOŦEN.

Protecting a unique forest

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve’s Coastal Douglas-fir forest is a rare ecosystem with unique trees, plants and wildlife. It is located in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, which means it receives much less precipitation than neighbouring areas. The result is a dry, sunny climate that is home to a number of rare and at-risk species , such as the Garry oak meadows.  

Unlike other common forest types, the Coastal Douglas-fir is only found along the southern coast of British Columbia and the western coast of Washington and Oregon. 

Unfortunately, this ecosystem is threatened due to development, climate change, and in some locations, an overpopulation of deer.

How SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island) was
Prior to European colonization, Indigenous Peoples regularly visited and harvested foods and medicines from the many islands in this area, including SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island). SḰŦÁMEN means "submerged by the waves" in the W̱SÁNEĆ language of SENĆOŦEN, and refers to the northern spit portions of the island, which are regularly hidden by the tides.

W̱SÁNEC knowledge holder ŚW̱,XELOSELWET Tiffany Joseph describes SḰŦÁMEN below:

W̱SÁNEĆ peoples once lived in the winter village of ȾELXOLU on what is now known as Sidney Island. The islets named by settlers as Sallas Rocks were known to the W̱SÁNEĆ as XEXMELOSEṈ long before settler arrival. What Parks Canada calls Eagle Islet, the W̱SÁNEĆ say is known better to them as SḰEḰEŦÁMEN. When W̱SÁNEĆ people would paddle from their villages on the Saanich Peninsula and were crossing to their villages in the San Juan Islands, JSIṈTEN says the people would take a stopover at W̱YOMEĆEṈ to take a break. W̱YOMEĆEṈ means place of caution. Perhaps this was a reminder to the W̱SÁNEĆ people to look after themselves in their travels. W̱IĆḴINEM says his elders would harvest ferns on these islands, which were said to grow to heights taller than the height of an adult person.

When you look at historical maps, you’ll see evidence of meadows, particularly in the area of what is now an airstrip. These meadowlands were places for W̱SÁNEĆ families to grow ḰȽO,EL , or camas. Camas was a staple food in the W̱SÁNEĆ diet. Many animals, such as deer, also enjoy the meadowlands to forage for food, and this was a prime opportunity for W̱SÁNEĆ hunters to harvest deer to feed their families. The wetlands would have drawn other hunters in the form of birds of prey like the hawks, and would be great habitat for amphibians.

The W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples’ experience of Sidney Island would have been much more abundant in biodiversity of plants, amphibians, birds, and insects. It wasn’t long ago that a person could lay in the fields among the hum of bees pollinating the meadow. Perhaps today you can still hear the frogs croaking during the WEXES moon (the second moon of the W̱SÁNEĆ new year). This moon tells us spring has arrived, and the flowers will be blooming, and that our canoe travels will be safer now that the fall and winter storms are over. These ṮEṮÁĆES (islands) are relatives of the deep, placed in the sea by our creator XÁLS to protect the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples. XÁLS bestowed upon the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples the responsibility to care for these relatives as well. Living on the islands, harvesting seafoods, meat, plants, and medicines, tending to the meadows with controlled burns, selectively harvesting logs for cedar longhouses and cedar canoes, and stripping cedar bark for baskets and clothing were all integral to the well-being of the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples and every area of the territory.  

 

The impacts of invasive deer

Lush forest understory inside the deer exclosure.

The impacts of invasive deer European settlers introduced fallow deer to SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island) in the 1960s. In the decades since then, fallow deer have eaten their way through the meadows and forest understory, the layer of vegetation between the upper branches of the trees and the ground. In this photo, notice the difference in vegetation that grows inside the fenced-off area where it is protected from deer, versus the sparse vegetation that grows outside.

 

Restoring a native understory

Group of employees and volunteers planting native plants in deer exclosure.

A healthy understory is critical to a forest's overall health. Most of a forest's plant biodiversity is found in this layer. A densely-populated understory acts as habitat and foraging sites for songbirds, amphibians, and small mammals. In order to support the recovery of a healthy forest understory, Parks Canada is working with SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ partners to explore options to permanently remove fallow deer from the island.

Removing invasive fallow deer will be the most effective way to restore the forest understory. Parks Canada is providing an extra boost by planting a variety of native plants in fenced exclosures. So far, ten exclosures have been built across SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island) and planted with over 300 native and culturally-important plants. These exclosure sites will act as a seed source for the surrounding areas and will help native plants re-establish throughout the forest. Indigenous Peoples will also be able to harvest foods, medicines, and materials from exclosures in the national park reserve.

Managing native black-tailed deer

Black tailed-deer in forest (native species).

Black-tailed deer are native to this region and found on many of the Southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island. Historically, black-tailed deer populations have moved freely between islands, seeking food and habitat. On SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island), black-tailed deer do not have natural predators, so Indigenous hunting plays an essential role in managing the national park reserve’s deer population. We will continue to monitor the black-tailed deer population to ensure that it does not outgrow the ecosystem’s available resources.