First Nations ceremony highlights Mary Lake land

In a rocky clearing in the forest at Mary Lake, drums beat softly, rhythmically. A lone male voice begins to sing an honour song; soon, other deep voices join in.

Members of the Tsartlip First Nation and Yellow Wolf drummers and singers led a celebration at Mary Lake on Sunday.

In a rocky clearing in the forest at Mary Lake, drums beat softly, rhythmically. A lone male voice begins to sing an honour song; soon, other deep voices join in.

Before them, two dancers crouch, one in red, one in black, their eyes cast reverently to the ground. Each holds in his hand a frond of cedar, the tree of life.

The dancers begin to move, rising, circling, stepping to the rhythm of the drums. A rapt audience watches.

About 100 people gathered Jan. 23 to celebrate Stewards of the Earth, people whose efforts in Highlands has protected land in its natural state for the benefit of generations to come.

The celebration was sponsored by the Mary Lake Conservancy, which is campaigning to preserve as parkland 43 hectares of the Mary Lake property.

Peter and Violet Brotherston, who bought the property in the early 1960s, were among those honoured with the dedication of stones engraved with inscriptions recognizing their stewardship.

“For the rest of their lives, they were zealous guardians and conservers of the land and waters and the plants and animals that made their homes here. Nothing was disturbed, everything was respected,” said Bob McMinn, leader of the Save Mary Lake campaign.

Tribute was also paid to the late Nancy McMinn, who led the movement that resulted in Gowlland Tod provincial park, and the Coast Salish ancestors of the drummers and dancers, who cared for the land for centuries before the European settlers came.

The Highlands lies within the traditional territory of the Saanich Nations.

“All we’re doing [today] is what we’ve been doing for thousands of years,” said Tom Sampson, elder of the Tsartlip band, whose grandsons were the dancers and who counted many family members among the drummers.

“We reach out when we need to preserve a way of life,” Sampson said.

Sampson is the narrator of a mini-documentary about Coast Salish traditions of stewardship posted on the Save Mary Lake website

The heart of the Save Mary Lake campaign is the opportunity for donors to buy virtual square metres of the Mary Lake property for $10 each.

Donors’ names are marked on the square metres, saved on a satellite map posted on the website.

Publicity and use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter have attracted donors from around the world as well as across Canada, with more than 250 donations received from Quebec after a Radio-Canada broadcast about the campaign.

Learn more about the Mary Lake Conservancy at or call 250-478-5858.

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