Ch’íiw̓es [Ch’ • í • iw̓es], means “raising paddle” and translates to ‘rock point on the northwest side of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Harbour’ in Stawakis. Ch’íiw̓es is unceded Squamish Nation territory once shared by all the people. At Ch’íiw̓es, the wind blows strongs, revitalizing even the most deadened soul. As the tide goes out, the rhythmic waves pull our feet further into the sand. As it rolls in, it’s power washes over us. The elements meet. Form into flow into form again, neither truly separate. Ch’íiw̓es looked like magically marsh land before the claws of colonialism embedded themselves. Ch’íiw̓es fate was to be filled in, paved and poisoned to create the town of Squamish. From the late 1960s to 1991, it was called Nexen and became heavily contaminated with mercury, the toxic waste of the former Chlor-Alkali Plant which produced caustic soda, hydrochloric acid and chlorine for the pulp and paper industry. After the remediation job, a toxic wasteland was transformed to a non-pristine public entrance to the ocean.
Under the guise of so-called “progress” Ch’íiw̓es is undergoing a more accepted form of industrialization: commercialization and tourism. The District of Squamish privatized this public space when they sold it to Matthews Southwest, a full-service private real-estate development company headquartered in Texas. As its website states, “With a confident vision toward conservative and controlled expansion, a commitment to excellence and a corporate philosophy of minimizing risk and maximizing long-term profit.” Some people justify the development of the Oceanfront by arguing that we need more growth, jobs, and housing and often use the reason “since it already is a wasteland…”
These arguments, however, are part of the problem.
Being classified as a previous wasteland doesn’t give permission for the continued destruction. Just like human wounds, earthly scars need love and attention. This means going further than the surface level rehabilitation that Ch’íiw̓es underwent after toxic industry filled its veins. It means revitalization which works contrary to extraction and the current economic system that takes at any cost. Revitalization involves giving back to life and articulates a new way to be with non-pristine nature. This involves building a more authentic relationship of respect and responsibility to both land and community, a deepening connection to the land around us. Revitalization means we give more than we take and replenishing and renewing the life we stole. It means decolonization, reconciliation, and the start of a better way. It means letting the broken parts heal so Ch’íiw̓es can heal and thrive. Change takes hard work and sacrifice, but resilience can heal. Even wastelands.
Conflicted over the direction that Squamish is going? Join us for a panel discussion on the topics of “Changing Squamish.” October 9th, at The Ledge Community Coffee House. Doors open at 6:30 pm.