On The Frontlines: Indigenous Women Are Playing An Integral Role In The Efforts To Protect Sacred Places

Widely known as the Broughton Archipelago, the traditional territory of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, ‘Namgis, and Mamalilikala First Nations is a pristine stretch of ocean and islands off the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island. It’s also home to one third of British Columbia’s wild salmon population, and ground zero for an increasingly important BC environmental battle.


Karrisa Glendale reflects on the battle to protect wild salmon in her traditional territory.

words :: Alex Harris      photography :: Cristina Mittermeier

Foreign-owned, open-net pen Atlantic salmon fish farms have been operating in the area for 30 years. The Broughton Archipelago is a crucial feeding ground for wild Pacific salmon and independent research continues to reveal the deadly threat these farm operations pose, mainly via the transfer of viruses, sea lice and disease through the open-net pens, to juvenile wild salmon passing by on their natural migration routes.

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Young female warriors of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw and ‘Namgis Nations, Molina Dawson (21) and Karissa Glendale (22), have been occupying, monitoring and engaging in direct action within their territory since August 2017 to raise awareness and put an end to the many harms these foreign industries are causing in their traditional lands and waters.

Efforts to re-assert female leadership continue in Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, ‘Namgis, and Mamalilikala First Nations. In these matriarchal societies, women are upheld and honoured for their wisdom and strength. And as First Nation culture, communities, and territory continue to come under attack by industry across BC, many believe it is time to empower young female leaders and their matriarch Elders to speak out and stand up for justice in their communities and beyond.

Molina Dawson

What motivates you?
I was fortunate to grow up with wild salmon. We were able to have it a lot, more than twice a week, and there was no worry about running out because we had quite a bit in the freezer. I was able to learn how to preserve it and make it a whole bunch of different ways from my aunts and grandmas. With my niece being born, it really made me look at the reality. We can’t have fish more than twice a week, or even more than twice a month now. So if I’m going to be able to teach her anything about what I learned, I have to do something to save the wild salmon.

What is it like being a woman on the frontline?

Molina: It’s been mostly women on the frontlines. I think part of that could be that we instinctually have more concern for the future, because we are mothers or are going to be mothers one day.

Karissa: I don’t think it would be any different from being a man on the frontline. If anything, I think it’s a bit more of an advantage because us women can control our emotions better, I guess. And we have definitely been tested throughout this whole thing.

Are there any women in your life or in your family who have inspired you?

Molina: My mother definitely has inspired me. My mom has been heavily involved. And a lot of the organizing, not just people on the frontline but a lot of the ones behind the scenes making sure press releases get out and connecting the dots, has been done by women too. My mother has been an amazing support and guide in this.

How has being on the frontline changed you?

Molina: I think I’ve learned a lot being out there. You see a lot from observing these farms. It doesn’t take a long time looking in these pens to notice a deformed fish or one with a big sore on the side. It’s not natural. The provincial [fish farm] licenses are up in June, so our number one concern right now is making sure those don’t get renewed. We are hoping to see abundant wild salmon runs in the future so we can still have healthy whales and bears and humans. Because that’s what this coast relies on: wild salmon.

For more information on BC’s battle to protect wild salmon check out cleansingourwaters.com