Wild Lectionary: Fishing On Our Ancestral Territory

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My late father, on our traditional Nisga’a fishing territory. Photo credit Tanya Stanley, summer 2011.

Epiphany 3B
Mark 1: 16-18

By: Jeffery Stanley

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable unto you, Oh God our rock and Redeemer.

“As Jesus passed along the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them ‘follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”

In the days of Jesus of Nazareth it was the custom for teachers to gather their students from the people of any community and lead them as a company from place to place as they taught. He (a teacher) would from time to time, talk to people and share truths with them. Certain students would be attracted to him and would come to listen to him from time to time. Sometimes they would linger at some favorable spot for awhile and persons would join them to listen and often respond to the message. Gutzke, Manford George. “Plain talk on Mark” pp. 18

Perhaps this is where Jesus’ power came from. The message that he had to share with the multitude attracted many people, Jesus used the power of influence. This is how Jesus was able to choose his disciples, by paying close attention to and taking note of, those who were most interested in what he was saying. The message he was conveying, was so powerful that the 12 he called as His disciples, immediately followed him without question.

As early as I can remember, I was always on the boat, fishing and gathering bi-valves for our winter supply. Crustaceans were also a part of our yearly gathering ritual. My late father, William, lost his father to a boating accident at the age of 5. Because he was the eldest boy, he had to quickly learn how to provide for his family without the assistance of other people. He knew the fishing and hunting grounds to be his form of education. This practice was then instilled in his children. Near the end of every school year, my father would take us out on the boat, and begin our fishing education. We had to learn how to be quick on our feet and to make important decisions in a split second. Safety was always my late father’s concern when it came to us being on his boat.

I am of Nisga’a ancestry. I live in the territory of the Nisga’a people. Although I am of Nisga’a descent, I also have a second heritage that I honor. My late father’s family comes from Port Simpson, the Tsimshian people. I see it as a great honor to be a part of two very traditional nations, who live on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

I live in the community of Gingolx (Kincolith) which is situated at the mouth of the Nass River Valley. Every year, our community is the first to receive all the fish and wildlife that returns to our estuary, and so we are known as the sea-food capitol of the Nass Valley.

Hunting and gathering pre-contact was the total way of living for men. We had to be strong fierce warriors, as fishing on the water also called us to be protectors of our lands. We have an elemental relationship with the sea. Since time immemorial, we relied on the harvest of sea-food, as we were isolated from the outside world.

Because we essentially harvested everything out of our waters for free, we used the “Sayt K’ilim  Goot” law (being of one heart.) No one starved, everybody shared their catch, and everybody prepared the food together. This communal way of living was indeed how Jesus was able to live his life.

Our paternal uncles taught the young boys how to fish and hunt, while our paternal aunts taught the young girls how to preserve wild game and fish for the upcoming winter season. These skills were vital to our survival as a Nisga’a people. Without these skills, we were looked upon as unfortunate people, who didn’t have aunts or uncles to teach us.

As we venture onto the water to fish, we feel a sudden change in our souls. We become one with nature. We know what mother nature is capable of doing, so we approach our fishing grounds with great dignity and respect. Getting into a canoe, or a boat (in today’s society) it almost feels as if we go through our own transfiguration.  We have to allow ourselves to be transformed. If we don’t, then we can’t respect the ocean as we should. Our ancestors used to tell us, that if we don’t respect what is given to us by K’amligiihaahlhahl (God) then misfortunes will fall upon us.

There is always a sense of relief when we cast our nets into the river, and fish begin to enter our boats, because it means that we were blessed to have food for the upcoming winter.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied – Matt 14:19-20a




Jeffery Stanley This is a photo of me, taken by my elder sister Tanya Stanley during Hoobiyee the Nisga’a new year. I live in 2 worlds, a Christian and traditional world. I’ve been taught to meld the two together so that I my soul can be whole.


Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.

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