Two new ferries set to begin service on Snuneymuxw First Nation’s traditional territory on Vancouver Island, were named in consultation with a different First Nation, and that doesn’t sit well with Snuneymuxw’s chief.
BC Ferries announced Tuesday, Jan. 11, that the second Island-class ferry to be used on the Nanaimo harbour-Gabriola Island route will be called Island Gwawis, named with the support of ’Namgis First Nation.
Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse issued a statement the next day, Jan. 12, saying he was “saddened and frustrated” that BC Ferries’ leadership has “decided to choose a racist and discriminatory path riddled with colonial acts that is woefully inflammatory and offensive to building a relationship between us.”
A press release from SFN mentioned “several executive meetings” between Snuneymuxw and BC Ferries. Wyse said the ferry company proposed building a totem pole, while Snuneymuxw, he said, wanted to “resolve fundamental and critical issues regarding their existing and proposed ferry operations in our territory.” He said ferry service in and around the four local terminals has caused “significant negative impacts to our territory” and has infringed on treaty rights.
Wyse says the ferry company’s choice to apply ’Namgis First Nation culture in Snuneymuxw territory violates human rights and contravenes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“I fully intend to use all remedies available to our people to rectify this issue, urging BC Ferries to discontinue their divisive and colonial behaviour against our nation,” Wyse said.
A BC Ferries social media post on Tuesday noted that “our six Island-class vessels are interchangeable and will not be dedicated to one specific route, but rather they will serve the coastal communities together.”
BC Ferries’ press release announcing the name of the new ship said the name Island Gwawis, which means raven of the sea, “celebrates the cultural connection between the original mariners of the coastal waters and the communities the vessel will soon serve.”
In an e-mail, Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries spokesperson, said the names of the ships aren’t related to territories and routes on which they may operate.
“The ships are identical, standardized and interoperable,” Marshall said. “As our vessels move around the fleet to meet operational requirements, we no longer name vessels based on geography or territories. Several Indigenous nations and communities, including Snuneymuxw, were invited to engage in the name selection process.”