Meet Jocelyn Dick, Multi-Generational Tseshaht Fisher

Sonia - September 28, 2021

Allow me to introduce you to my new friend, multi-generational Tseshaht fisher, Jocelyn Dick. I feel pretty darn lucky to be able to call her my friend. And I want to share with you how we got to know each other and how we came to welcome Jocelyn and 11 other new Tseshaht and Hupacasath fishers aboard Skipper Otto this year. 

Last November, you may remember the Mi’kmaq lobster fishing dispute on the east coast. In the wake of this conflict, I undertook calls and meetings with Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices from west coast fisheries and beyond and wrote this blog post on Active Listening. One of the many long and fascinating calls I had was with our long-time ‘Namgis fisher, Doug. We talked at length about the challenges Indigenous harvesters face in BC and I asked if there were any other Indigenous fishers he knew who might want to share their perspective with me. Doug told me about a strong, fiercely independent Tseshaht woman he knew from basketball who fished with her kids in Economic Opportunity fisheries in Alberni Inlet. He described her strong moral compass, her spiritual connection to land and water, and her unrelenting dedication to justice. “You two would get on like a house on fire,” Doug had laughed. I just knew I had to meet this woman.

Over the months ahead, Jocelyn and I connected. It started with a cautious phone call and pretty quickly graduated to engaging conversations around ethics, justice, and Indigenous world-views. She taught me all about how Economic Opportunity fisheries work for Tseshaht and Hupacasath fishers in her community — what works and what doesn’t. She shared stories of collaboration and true community, of people that have each other’s backs no matter what. And she shared painful stories of hardship and injustice, too, and of the legacy of trauma left by the Indian Act and residential schools. We talked about her hopes and dreams for how the fishery could be better, and how perhaps the Skipper Otto model could contribute to that vision. We commiserated about the effects of the pandemic on our sanity, and shared family photos and stories of our kids’ final days of school during the “heat dome” in June. And as the salmon began to make their return to the Somass river outside Jocelyn’s front door — and she shared photos and videos of splashes made by countless jumpers and her excitement for what their return meant for her and her community — I decided it was time to make a trip to Port Alberni to hang out in person.

The sun spilled over the mountains that towered above the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal on what promised to be a scorching hot summer day, dispelling the water-colour mist that still clung to the shore. As I waited to board the 90 min ferry to Nanaimo before the 90 min drive across the Island to Port Alberni, I didn’t really know how the day would unfold. I felt a little nervous about how my visit would be perceived by the community. Would I be dismissed as a white intruder? It was my goal to get to know as many Tseshaht and Hupacasath fishers as possible and to learn everything I could about their connection to fishing. And I hoped they would be open to sharing their stories and knowledge with me. Either way, I knew I’d just need to roll with it and be open to whatever came my way.

When I pulled off the highway into the Tseshaht band office parking lot, I was immediately impressed by the stunningly beautiful building with its tall timbers and carved front door.

Among her many jobs, Jocelyn works for the Nation in the language preservation department and so she suggested we meet at her office and go from there. In no time, Jocelyn was striding across the parking lot towards me, her bright smile beaming as she wrapped me in a warm hug that began to melt away any of my fears of not being welcomed. “C’mon in! I’ll show you around!” Jocelyn toured me around the entire community starting with the beautiful band office. A born natural tour guide, she introduced me to everyone we met, told them all about Skipper Otto, told me all about her relationship to them, their families, and the work they do in the community. Later, with shoes abandoned on the shore, we rolled up our shorts, and waded deep into the cool refreshing waters of the Somass River at the community’s favourite swimming spot they call “the dam.” Under the dappled shade of the trees that clung to the banks of the river, the close family bonds that tie Jocelyn to her community were made clear — easy conversations peppered with “love you, brother,” and “see ya later, auntie,” and healthy doses of good natured teasing and uninhibited whole-belly laughter. Among our walks and short drives throughout the community, Jocelyn explained the history behind significant buildings, art work, and favourite places on the river. My throat tightened in anguish as she drove us past the site of the old residential school and pointed out where the community knows their unmarked graves to be. And my heart warmed when we rounded the corner on the new reserve school with its proud sharp angles reaching into the sky like rays of sunlight where today kids learn their traditional language, culture, art, and stories alongside the rest of the BC curriculum.

Towards the end of our day, Jocelyn took me to a beautiful spot on Sproat River on Hupacasath First Nations territory with some fish-counting ladders. We peered into the crystal clear pools of water and swirling schools of salmon making their way back home to their spawning grounds. There we sat in silence for a few lazy minutes, lulled by the buzz of insects and the gentle rushing of river water. She told me that she comes here often when she needs a little quiet and it helps her connect with her dad whom she lost when she was just 17 years old. We’d talked before about her dad and by all accounts, he was a heck of a guy. Kind, smart, compassionate, and with a profound sense of right and wrong. 

“I always loved fishing with my dad. I’ve been fishing since as far back as I can remember. Like 6 years old. But I started operating my own 14ft aluminum boat to fish with dad when I was 13.”

“13?!” I asked in astonishment. My oldest son is 13 and although he loves fishing, too, I just couldn’t imagine him running the boat on his own! 

“Yeah,” she laughed. “My older brothers didn’t want to get up at 5am anymore to go fishing, so that’s when I stopped just being a deckhand and started running my own boat with dad. We did drag sets together — each boat tows an end of the net and closes it up in a circle when the fish hit. We only took what we needed — for ourselves, for our family members, for our Elders. And then we’d stop. We’d be home and cleaned up by lunchtime and have the whole afternoon to just relax and play and have fun. That was an amazing life. Dad taught me that you never take more than you need. That’s the right way to live in a relationship with all our relatives. Not like how you see things today. Some people can never get enough. They’re never satisfied. We call them meat-hounds — they fish like crazy. Working themselves to the bone. More, more, more. And that’s part of the reason we have so many problems today. Don’t get me wrong,” she smiled. “I was a meat-hound myself at one point. And then I realized I just didn’t want to live like that anymore.” 

“Dad taught me that you never take more than you need. That’s the right way to live in a relationship with all our relatives.”

I nodded in agreement and we talked about this idea for a while. How I see this a lot in business. That, like the Lorax, some people keep “biggering and biggering” their companies just for the sake of growth. For status. To appease investors and shareholders. And that I don’t want to live like that either. The purpose of Skipper Otto is to connect communities of people around a shared vision for a just, equitable, and sustainable seafood system. And by focussing on a vision for a sustainable, fair, and fulfilling way of life, everyone in our community — members, Skipper Otto staff, fishing families, community partners, shoreside businesses, and even governments — are co-creators in that vision. That sometimes growth is organic and natural and helps achieve that vision. But that sometimes bigger, faster, more, more, more isn’t the way to fulfill it. She smiled and nodded, put an arm around my shoulders, and looked up into the blinding light of the late-afternoon sky. “Look,” she said. “Eagles.” 

She explained that whenever she saw eagles, she felt a connection to her dad. Sometimes an eagle feather would fall in her path as she was walking and that this was a sacred gift to be cherished. Her “second mom” — her childhood best friend’s mom — had taught her how to bead them and her kids would sometimes tease her about how many eagle feathers she’d collected. But it was times like this, when eagles were nearby, she knew her dad was watching over her, taking care of her. “See if you can get a picture,” she suggested. Blinded by the sun, I pointed my phone up at the sky and snapped a few photos. I’d take a closer look later to see what I captured.

Hours later as I waited in the cool, dark night time air at the Nanaimo ferry terminal, I flipped through my photos from the day and smiled at all the fun memories from the day. But the last photo stopped me in my tracks. In that clear, bright blue, cloudless sky, I had blindly snapped a photo of Jocelyn’s eagle right next to the only cloud in the sky — a perfectly Tseshaht-eagle shaped cloud.

The coincidence was uncanny and sent goosebumps down my arms. How lucky was I to have teachers like Jocelyn in my life? Our conversations around living in right relationship with our communities and all our earthly relations reverberated in my mind. You know that feeling when your mind, body, and the world around you fall into synch and everything feels like it makes sense? It’s moments like that when I know I am on the path I’m meant to be on. I may not know exactly what’s the next tactical step in relation to Skipper Otto or social justice, reconciliation, or a challenge one of my kids is facing, but it’s through deep and meaningful connections with others that “what’s next” simply makes itself known. And I knew that my friendship with Jocelyn was the start of something big.

(This blog post is part of a series around Skipper Otto’s newest Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nation fishing families. Read here for more about how Economic Opportunity fisheries work!)

Sonia - September 28, 2021

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Meet Jocelyn Dick, Multi-Generational Tseshaht Fisher

Sonia - September 28, 2021

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