Friday April 7, 2023

The Seattle Times

If you’d sailed into the San Juan archipelago over 200 years ago, you might have seen Lummi fishermen in two dugout canoes anchored parallel to each other, a net in the water between them. A person in a watchtower a couple of feet off the bow of one canoe would stare into the water, watching and waiting for salmon to swim into the net.

It’s a technique the Lummi people believe was given to them by the Creator. It’s called reef netting, or sxwo’le in the Lummi language, and its central concept hasn’t changed in centuries. Fish swim up an artificial reef created from an ever-shallowing system of lines tied with ribbon, into a waiting net suspended between two boats. The net is hauled out of the water, fish sorted by species. There is no bycatch, no waste.

Reef netting is an integral part of Lummi culture that was once widely practiced. But shortly after the Point Elliott Treaty was signed in 1855, everything about how Indigenous people fished — from their waters and catch limits, to the land where they processed their catch — was forcibly taken away until the practice nearly died out. The Lummi have spent more than 100 years trying to claw their way back to it. 

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