Musqueam Gill Net Fishing

Name: Ruthie Speck (Musqueam Indian Band)
Subject Areas: Social Studies; Science; Physical and Health Education
Artefact /Place/ Skill: Musqueam Gill Net Fishing

Making Space

How might teachers prepare their students to work with this content? What background knowledge might be required?

  • Teachers who might work with this content who are a part of the Vancouver and Richmond School Boards should preface this content by acknowledging the unceded territory that they live, work, and play on.
  • The Musqueam people have lived and fished on and around the stal̕əw̓ (Fraser River) since time immemorial. Gill net fishing is a practice that involves so much more than the act of being on the water. It involves maintenance and care for your gear; mending nets (math), engine maintenance, boat maintenance; while out on the water it involves the study and observation of the way the river flows (science); and it also contains the study of the landscape and how the Musqueam learned how to navigate the river (geography). Gill net fishing for the Musqueam also involves politics through the defending of inherent Aboriginal rights demonstrated through the landmark R v. Sparrow case, the “Sparrow Decision” (political studies). Gill net fishing is also a physically demanding activity, although teachers cannot take a class out to fish on the river, they can mimic the actions required through practicing balance and perhaps pulling a tire in from across the gym or field (physical and health education). Most importantly, all of these work together and create space for the transmission of oral histories to be passed on from generation to generation (literacy). Bringing in this skill of gill net fishing allows teachers to actively connect life experiences to curriculum, demonstrating that learning occurs in all shapes and forms.

Practice Humility

How might non-Indigenous teachers sensitively work with this subject? What might they need to consider in their own positionality?

  • Non-Indigenous teachers should work with this subject with an open mind and heart, fully embracing the inquiry-based teaching and learning strategies. Students may pose deep and meaningful questions, work together to find the answer, and uncover how valuable and informative Indigenous knowledge systems are.
  • When incorporating this skill into their lessons, teachers are encouraged to refer to existing sources and then ask Knowledge holders any further questions that they may have about the skill so that they can develop well thought out units/lessons.

Acknowledge Sources

What can teachers do to find good supporting resources? How should they be cited, especially when it comes to Indigenous knowledges?

  • When approaching the idea of incorporating Musqueam Gill Net Fishing into their units and lessons, teachers should first consult the online sources that the Musqueam Indian Band has made available. These sources can be cited academically. Once a level of familiarity has been reached, teachers are encouraged to reach out to Musqueam Knowledge holders as well as district personnel (listed below) to ask any further questions to be able to engage on a personal level that cannot be achieved through reading alone. When referring to and using any information that is shared with you by knowledge holders, it is important to acknowledge of whom the information has been received; acknowledging where they are from, that they gave you permission to use the knowledge, and understand that the information shared is invaluable and must be treated with the utmost respect.
  • There is a real possibility that teachers may not be able to speak with knowledge holders one on one they can be very busy depending on the time of year. If this is the case, I ask teachers to please be understanding and to consult other written sources that hold as much valuable insights to Indigenous cultures.


Musqueam Online Sources:


Other Sources:

  • Sq’ewlets website offers some useful information about net and cordage. Sq’ewlets is an upriver community that share language and familial ties to the downriver people of Musqueam. I share this resource because our fishing traditions are very similar. Teachers should understand that although there are some similarities between Indigenous communities their information cannot always be interchangeable and shared without proper consultation with those communities.
  • American Fisheries Society, “A Brief History of Fisheries in Canada” offers a nice overview in their Indigenous Fisheries Section that speaks on the sustainable fishing methods that Indigenous people have and continue to use as well as touching on the Sparrow Decision.
  • In “A Summary of Coast Salish Subsistence Practices on the Lower Fraser River” section 2.2.1 Tools and Techniques of Fishing the author, speaks to the use of seine nets and how they were also used as set nets.
  • The book, Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart

Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart


BC Curriculum Connections

How does it relate to BC Curriculum?

Click on the subject area below to expand the section.

Social Studies

Big Idea(s):  

  • Indigenous peoples are reclaiming mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being despite the continuing effects of colonialism.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Use Social Studies inquiry processes and skills to ask questions; listen to the oral tradition of Elders and other local knowledge holders; gather, interpret, and analyze ideas; and communicate findings and decisions
  • Assess and compare the significance of the interconnections between people, places, events, and developments at a particular time and place, and determine what they reveal about issues in the past and present (significance)

Big Idea(s):  

  • A geographic region can encompass a variety of physical features and/or human interactions.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Assess the significance of places by identifying the physical and/or human features that characterize them (sense of place)
  • Evaluate how particular geographic actions or events influence human practices or outcomes (geographical value judgments)
  • Identify and assess how human and environmental factors and events influence each other (interactions and associations)

Big Idea(s):  

  • Natural processes have an impact on the landscape and human settlement.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Use geographic inquiry processes and geographic literacy skills to ask questions; gather, interpret, and analyze data and ideas from a variety of sources and spatial/temporal scales; and communicate findings and decisions (evidence and interpretation)
  • Assess the significance of places by identifying the physical and/or human features that characterize them (sense of place)
  • Evaluate how particular geographic actions or events affect human practices or outcomes (geographical value judgments)

Big Idea(s):  

  • Political institutions and ideology shape both the exercise of power and the nature of political outcomes.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Assess the significance of political issues, ideologies, forces, decisions, or developments, and compare varying perspectives on their significance at particular times and places, and from group to group (significance)
  • Compare and contrast continuities and changes for different political institutions and organizations at particular times and places (continuity and change)


Big Idea(s):  

  • An object’s motion can be predicted, analyzed, and described. (The net in the water, how it moves, how to move it)

Curricular Competencies:

  • Demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal, local, or global interest
  • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships
  • Consider the changes in knowledge over time as tools and technologies have developed
  • Implement multiple strategies to solve problems in real-life, applied, and conceptual situations
  • Express and reflect on a variety of experiences, perspectives, and worldviews through place

Big Idea(s):  

  • Scientific understanding enables humans to respond and adapt to changes locally and globally.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Make observations aimed at identifying their own questions, including increasingly abstract ones, about the natural world
  • Collaboratively and individually plan, select, and use appropriate investigation methods, including field work and lab experiments, to collect reliable data (qualitative and quantitative)
  • Use local knowledge to experience and interpret the local environment

Physical and Health Education

Big Idea(s):  

  • Participation in outdoor activities allows for the development of skills in a complex and dynamic environment.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Develop and demonstrate a variety of skills for outdoor activities
  • Monitor exertion levels and energy levels during outdoor activities
  • Monitor environmental conditions during outdoor activities
  • Explain nutritional considerations and other requirements for preparation for and participation in outdoor activities
  • Explain how developing competence in outdoor activities can increase confidence and encourage lifelong participation
  • Understand their strengths and areas for growth

First People’s Principles of Learning

Which First People’s Principles of Learning apply?

I truly believe that each of the First People’s Principles of Learning applies to Musqueam’s gill net fishing practices. However, I chose specific ones that I will explain the connection and importance to.

  • Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
  • The practice of gill net fishing requires one to be in good physical condition. When you harvest salmon (sockeye, spring, chum) you do not only fish for yourself, but you also fish to provide for your family and your community. When you fish you actively pay attention to your surroundings, noticing which areas have changed since the last time you were on the water, either from nature or from human activity. It is also a time when we are grateful to be on the river, thankful that it provides sustenance to us year after year and thankful to our ancestors for preserving this way of life and passing it on from generation to generation.
  • Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place)
  • When fishing on the river, it is full of learning and teaching moments. Depending on your skill level you learn something new each time. You are taught the process of preparing your boat and net before even heading toward the water. Taught what to bring, how to dress, what to expect and to always be prepared for the unexpected. When you’re on the water you observe, you ask questions about what you don’t understand, and you discuss and learn together. The tide and strength of the water is explained, the movement of water is explained, how to navigate is explained, and watching out for natural hazards is explained. The entire experience of preparing, being on the boat, and coming off the water is experiential learning, relatable to students from Musqueam and other fishing-based towns and cities.
  • Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
  • Many activities and traditions within Indigenous communities involve multiple generations participating all at once with no limits to who learns from who, it is not uncommon for a grandparent to be open and happy to learn from their grandchild. It is the same when it comes to gill net fishing, but it is more common for these honoured traditions and knowledges to be passed on from a grandparent/parent onto the next generation, be it a child, niece or nephew, or grandchild. These roles can be understood as peer mentors, where both roles willingly learn from each other.
  • Learning recognizes the role of Indigenous knowledge.
  • The processes that Musqueam people follow for gill net fishing would not be possible without the practice of oral histories.
  • Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
  • The processes that Musqueam people follow for gill net fishing would not be possible without the practice of oral histories.
  • Learning involves patience and time.
  • It is important to recognize that skills take time to develop and master. Gill net fishing is no exception. If it was someone’s first time on a boat, you wouldn’t expect them to know how to set and pull in a net and pick the fish.

Inviting Community

What is one way that teachers could work with community members for this project?

In the Vancouver School Board, two contact people that would be helpful for information on Musqueam topics would be:

  • Trudi Harris-Cornick
  • Tracy Healy

And for the Richmond School District:

  • Nora Stogan

In the Musqueam Administration Office there is a Protocol and Communications Office, Mack Paul (Protocol coordinator, and Odette Wilson (Communications officer, They can point you in the right direction if you’re not sure who to contact but know what topic you need information on. However, I believe that staff in the following departments would be able to assist as time allows, reach out the Protocol and Communications office and mention which department you would like to arrange a meeting with and mention the purpose.

  • Musqueam Fisheries Commission
  • Musqueam Fisheries Department
  • Musqueam Language and Culture Department
  • Musqueam Archives Department

Indigenous Perspectives

How does your lesson relate to decolonization or reconciliation of education?

These three would be able to provide valuable information on Musqueam Fisheries. However, they have very busy schedules and I encourage you to plan well ahead allowing time to schedule a meeting and then time to put together a unit/lesson.

To get in touch with them I would email the above-mentioned protocol/communications officer and go from there.

  • Morgan Guerin, Aboriginal Fisheries Officer
  • Lawrence Guerin, Aboriginal Fisheries Officer
  • Wendy John, former elected chief, and councillor, related to the late Ron Sparrow
  • Fishers who are a part of the Fisheries Commission