By Alejandro Frid New Society Publishing
Book Review by Sage Birchwater –
The latest book by Bowen Island marine ecologist Alejandro Frid carries a message of hope in a world fraught with worrying environmental uncertainty. Five years ago, Frid published his first book on a similar theme, A World For My Daughter: An Ecologist’s Search for Optimism (Caitlin Press 2015). There, the author’s brilliant analysis of the ecological stress facing the planet, measured from the relatively pristine environment of the Central Coast of British Columbia, suggested a
David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants
By Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company (2013)
His latest work, Changing Tides, offers more hope.
Frid says he made a conscious shift to find optimism. “Like many of my scientific colleagues, I am often overwhelmed,” he says. “Climate change, ocean acidification, species extinctions: we contemplate these difficult issues constantly. I know well what it is like to just want to give up.”
For the past three decades Frid has worked as an ecologist on marine conservation with modern Indigenous peoples of the Nuxalk, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Wuikinuxv nations. He is seeking to merge science and Indigenous knowledge to steer us toward a more benign Anthropocene.
Anthro-what, you say?
Anthropocene is an environmental buzzword coined by Nobel laureate atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen back in 2000. It refers to our current geological age where human activity has become the most dominant influence on the planet, including the climate and the environment.
Frid finds his optimism by fusing Western science with the intrinsic knowledge and practices of Indigenous cultures. He says aboriginal societies all over the world developed intentional and socially complex practices for sustainable resource management over thousands of years. The book details his research with Indigenous managers on the Central Coast in co-operation with Department of Fisheries officials to improve understanding of depleted marine habitats and species. It’s a process that requires understanding and respect. A learning curve for everyone involved.
In the last decade Frid expanded his ecological footprint to the Chilcotin Plateau where the headwaters of the Chilcotin River are a vital spawning and rearing habitat for salmon that infuse the marine environment he knows so well.
Several years ago, Alejandro and his daughter, Twyla Bella, then about 10, spent the night at our place in Williams Lake, along with two other dads and their daughters from Bowen Island. They were on their way to Nemiah Valley to attend the XeniGwet’in Culture Week at Naghtaneqed School. There they learned firsthand the importance of Pacific salmon to the Tsilhqot’in people and the austere measures they have taken to preserve the fishery.
They learned about the stand taken by the Tsilhqot’in to prevent a copper and gold mine at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) that would endanger salmon survival in the whole Chilcotin River system. They came away refreshed and invigorated by the cultural sharing, inspired by the stewardship role of the XeniGwet’in in their caretaker area.
As an ecologist Frid sees the vital connection between healthy salmon stocks in the marine environment and the integrity of spawning grounds in the headwaters of streams feeding the Pacific.
The cover of Changing Tides pictures a man drumming, standing on the shore of Teztan Biny. Above the drummer is a swirling circle of fish. The author explains the significance.
Alejandro says his dad, Samuel Frid, acquired the drum from Kwakwaka’wakw artist Eugene Hunt in the 1980s, then passed it on to him in the 1990s. In September of 2018 Alejandro gifted the drum to Cecil Grinder and Doreen William as a wedding present. Cecil is an inspirational cultural leader who has led the charge identifying the spiritual significance of Teztan Biny. Doreen’s father, the late Joseph William, grew up there.
Frid says the web of social, geographic, and cultural relationships depicted on the cover of the book reflects the trade economy, cross-pollination, and adaptability that are integral to First Nations. “These are all major themes in the book,” he says.
Changing Tides is an attempt to chart a course through the world as it is today toward a positive future.
“Catastrophe can be our teacher,” he concludes. “But it need not be the only one…We are on a knife’s edge, and this is the time to act.”
He says his daughter gives him a reason to keep writing. “It’s my hope that this book will do its small part in inspiring her, and the rest of us, to do all we can to rebuild a world where people from different cultures relate to each other and to our non-human kin, with respect, reciprocity, and love,” Frid says.
Copies of Changing Tides are available at the Open Book in Williams Lake or wherever great books are sold. It’s an important narrative worth checking out. -GG
Sage is a freelance writer and lives in Williams Lake with his partner, Caterina. He has been enjoying the rich cultural life of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast since 1973.