Being a Guardian Watchman is not just a career but a way of life, say Mamalilikulla Chief Richard Sumner and Guardian Watchman Darren Puglas.
“Anyone doing this job is someone who isn’t scared of working hard,” says Mamalilikulla Chief Richard Sumner adamantly. “It isn’t 9 to 5! Anything can happen at any time.” But, adds the Chief: “There is also a lot of pride and self-esteem that come with being a Guardian Watchman.”
There are many valuable skills that also go with the job. Mamalilikulla Guardian Watchmen Darren Puglas and Wayne Bell, who are enrolled in the Vancouver Island University’s Stewardship Technician Training Program to become certified Stewardship Technicians (Darren graduated in March 2018), have gained qualifications in subjects ranging from small engine repair and marine first aid to archaeological and culturally modified tree (CMT) training, and environmental law and communications techniques to digital species monitoring.
Taking care of the old places
All of those skills and more have come into play for Darren Puglas over the 2017—2018 season. Among the many other projects they undertook, Puglas and his colleagues worked with archaelogists to identify and complete assessments of more than fifty archaeological sites on islands throughout Mamalilikulla territory. “I really liked that work,” remarks Puglas. “We’re working hard to protect those sites from further damage and loss and taking care of them.”
The same places where the First Nation once had thriving village sites and sacred burial locations also happen to be popular with twenty-first century tourists, who like to camp on the islands and enjoy the spectacular scenery. “Part of our work was to find places they can go and camp that won’t disturb these archaeological sites,” explains Puglas. “It’s a win-win that way, because they are happy to be directed to good places to go and we know our sites are being protected from harm.”
It’s a tough job but the Guardian Watchmen love it
“I loved the training I had to do to be out here doing this,” says Darren Puglas. “I love that I get to be out here with that knowledge and those skills, doing the testing work, helping people who need it, operating independently. I really love that I am getting a chance to take care of the territory. It’s our turn to do that, the younger ones. It’s where our people used to live, where our parents lived. Now it’s our turn.”
It’s hard work in conditions that can be challenging—rough seas, bad weather and wildlife among other challenges—but Puglas doesn’t notice when it’s five o’clock at the end of a long day. He says he could just happily keep going: “I’m in such a beautiful place, doing such important work. I don’t even notice the time.” He can’t imagine tiring of it: “Last year was my first year, this is my second, twenty more to go I hope!”
A vision for the future
“We are planning to hire a new Guardian Watchman manager soon,” says Chief Sumner. “That’s very exciting. We’re also hoping to attract students as interns, to get more young people involved.” That takes a special kind of person, he adds: “Someone who really cares, who wants to be out there in our territory, taking care of it and being our eyes and ears, our representatives to explain to people the importance of these places and protecting them.”
In 2018 Mamalililkulla will be installing a new headquarters on Village Island, complete with a woodstove to keep the Watchmen warm and dry after long days out on the water. “Good living conditions are important when people work hard,” says Chief Sumner. It’s the start of realizing the vision he described in “Present and Accounted For” in January 2017:
“Five years from now, I’d like to see a crew of nine Guardians, not just three, all of them working full-time, year-round and being paid a decent wage that supports them living in the territory and growing their families here. I’m aiming for there to be a really good headquarters for them to operate from in the territory.
In our vision statement,” concludes Chief Sumner, “we speak of creating the opportunity for a strong, self-sufficient sovereign Mamalilikulla Nation. Our stewardship program will be part of that opportunity. I know we can do this.”