Investing in culture: Homalco chief envisions bright future for youth
By Cara McKenna
Homalco Chief Darren Blaney has a vision to help the next generation to have a strong cultural understanding, thriving resources and big dreams.
The recently elected leader ran on a campaign of investing in youth and reconnecting them back to their language, songs and territories, along with bringing healing to the community after residential schools and the loss of its lands and resources. He is working to regain Homalco’s
access to its territories, including the fish in its own waters which it struggles to access because of government rules, and to improve the nation’s troubled finances.
The Sentinel caught up with Blaney during a recent visit to Homalco to talk about his plans.
The Sentinel: Hi Darren. You’ve now been chief since November. What are some of your major priorities at the moment?
Chief Darren Blaney: The youth. We want to invest in our youth. In my campaign letter, I said that everything that we make from our logging company, our bear tours, everything would be directed at helping out the youth—and elders—towards culture and healing. They all are kind of one package.
We have to work on that, because we want them to start to have dreams again. A lot of them are in school and they don’t have much idea about what kind of goal they have for themselves.
So Homalco will be providing opportunities for them to learn and practice culture?
Yes, and that’s what our cultural camp in Church House will do. It will give them a sort-of cultural boot camp over there. They can connect with the territory, they can start to use the language a bit more out there—I’m hoping it’ll be just all language out there, because if they can’t communicate unless they do so in our language, then they’ll have to learn it faster. They can learn about our resources—the fishing, the clam digging in our territory—and get connected with it. Because these kids haven’t been up in Bute, our territory, too often. And in Church House, we lived by the tides and the water and the winds. Storms prevented us from travelling, or if the tides were low we could go dig clams or ling cod, or set nets. My grandfather and I always used to go travelling and go out on his little boat. We’d dig clams or pick berries. We’d be hunting while we were travelling too. All those things we did. Sometimes we’d even pick urchins when the tide was right.
So it’s a matter of bringing back some of those opportunities to the youth, and encouraging them.
It’s part of their identity, but since we’ve come (to our current reserve) part of that identity has been cut off, and we haven’t made the effort to connect them back to their territory. We have these neighbours who think they own the territory and make our people quite often feel unwelcome. Our job is to know our history so that we know not to be impacted by what anyone says. This is our territory, we know our territory, and what anyone else says is meaningless. A lot of the time our kids feel smaller because they don’t know our history and our culture, so that’s what we have to do to build them up.
If you look at the kids, many of them are lost right now. But if you just put some time and money and effort into them and they’ll build up on their own. For example, we just found that we have $1,000 a month from London Drugs that was supposed to be going towards our kids but instead it was going into the band account, and our kids had no money for activities. Now they have that money and they’re starting to figure out a plan for it. Soon, our logging company will be out of debt and we’ll be doing the same. Maybe we’ll give them something for part of the year but they should have a big one for a trip somewhere. I’d like to see them go to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque. They should go to these places. They should see all these wonders of the world. Because when you come back from trips you have tons more confidence and I think that’s what our kids don’t have. Any place we can build them up, we’ll try to build them up.
So that’s the wider vision for the next little while—can you talk a bit about some other things that are happening for Homalco right now?
With our logging company we’re starting to change the board around to get more expertise. For me, it’s a focus on our people. We have 20 or 30 jobs in our logging company, but we have maybe three or four of our members working there. With the lack of employment in the community, some of the benefits of that company should be coming to the community. The company itself has a big debt load. We’re trying to work with them because we’ve got a pretty big debt load ourselves, so we’re working on our finances. We’re putting some discipline there, we’re monitoring what we’re spending. Eventually we’ll get to a point where we can make a plan. My example for this is what the Haida do. They own 50 per cent of their forestry. That’s where we need to get to, if we have that kind of control of resources in our territory, our rights become stronger, and our economic development also becomes stronger.
The hatchery has also been pretty neglected. We’ll be meeting with Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other people who are familiar with hatchery work. We’re going to bring them all together and brainstorm our roadmap for the hatchery to start to expand it. I get pretty annoyed with DFO. If the hatchery produces enough, the commercial fishermen will get first shot at it, then the sports fishermen, and Homalco is last in line. If there’s something left over and Homalco can make an economic benefit of it, then Homalco will. But it’s never happened. It’s our work, it’s our time and it’s our investment. So I’d like to change that around a bit and work on something else. Because it is our territory, and our people have managed the salmon stocks for thousands of years and the fish traps were the way of managing them. When DFO goes in there, they put a gate there and, say 700 pairs of coho salmon gets in there, they block the rest of them off.
That doesn’t necessarily make sense—how do they know that the ones that they blocked off aren’t the stronger ones? Our people managed that in a totally different way. They had fish traps and let the bigger ones go through, and took the others for themselves. That’s what I’d like to see us doing again. Our opportunities for food fish are almost gone now. We have sockeye in Homathco and we haven’t to start figuring out how do we get in there and start restoring those. We have lots of ways we can do it and part of that is taking a look at the forest companies and seeing what kind of impact they have on the salmon stocks.
The last thing I wanted to ask you about is the community radio station—is that still moving forward in between all of these other projects now that you’re chief?
It’s going, I’d like it to go faster but I have to be patient with that. I’ve had some meetings on it and we’re still working on funding for it. We have lots of people who are excited about it. One guy came and saw me yesterday, he wants to be the DJ. We have another lady downstairs, when we had the conference here in May, she did an interview and it was broadcast nationally on Redwire. So our people are practicing how to do interviews with those expensive mics and equipment. It’s pretty neat to see. Our radio station is one of the biggest in Canada so it’ll reach down to Nanaimo and Port Hardy. The profits will go to the youth, elders, and culture and healing. It’ll start to build up a trust fund and I’d like for it to keep building a trust fund.
Thank you for your time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.