Lillooet, British Columbia — The Bridge River Band of the St’at’imc Nation, located in the interior British Columbia desert east of Whistler, recently began tours of the Fishing Rock, a First Nations pictograph celebrating an historic assertion of native identity.
The 70s-era work, embedded in millennia of artistic tradition, depicts the sun-centered cycle of the salmon, the focus of a court case wherein First Nations thought took modern legal precedence. The case pitted the calendar fishing seasons established by resource managers against the cyclical and age-old intervals of the salmon run, which the court determined were primary when establishing fishing times.
Native artist Saul Terry created the sun disc pictograph in acknowledgement of this metamorphosis of law, which resulted in the vindication of a native arrested for fishing “out of season”. It stands on a rock promontory overlooking the Bridge River just outside the tourist town of Lillooet, 160 miles from Vancouver.
Each August, a community of blue tarps appears in the area of Fishing Rock. These are native fishing encampments. The occupants take advantage of the most extensive salmon migration on the planet. The traditional tribal diet is one of salmon and mule deer venison, supplemented with fruit from extensive blueberry meadows.
Fishing Rock is part of an area notable for rich resources. In the junction pool of the Bridge and Fraser Rivers, a mass of upstream-facing salmon darkens the green water. On native land further up the Bridge River, lore has gold deposits measured in pounds within glacial deposits. Four-pound trout, off-limits to non-natives, swim unafraid in the upstream reaches of the icy river.
The higher profile of Fishing Rock is part of a general upgrading of Lillooet, the southernmost majority-native town in North America. Along Main Street, tourists visit a lineal jade walk lined with massive monoliths of local jade. At the western portal of town, a new native cultural center welcomes visitors from Vancouver and Whistler.