As Joan Morris looks across the windblown island at the site of her former home, memories come flooding back.
"There's a yew tree and an orchard and that's where the house used to be," said Morris, who is also known as Sellemah, her traditional name.
Morris, an elder with Songhees First Nation, lived on Chatham Island with her family from 1947 until 1957, when the well dried up.
Today, only fragments of her old life remain.
"Someone got stuck out here in the 1960s and, instead of making a bonfire on the beach here, he set fire to the house. There is no common respect," she said.
Now Morris works with professors and students from the University of Victoria to help identify plants and ensure the Songhees history, stretching back thousands of years, is not forgotten.
That work and her example of traditional values were recognized Wednesday when RCMP Const. Chris Dovell presented Morris with a blanket, a symbol of the shared aims "of developing safe communities on your traditional lands," Dovell said.
Morris, whose greatgrandfather was a shaman, said the First Nation moved to Chatham and Discovery islands in the 1920s when aboriginal ceremonies, songs and dances were banned by government authorities.
"They came out and performed their dances and music without disturbance," she said.
A bonus was that the isolation kept many of the children out of residential school.
As Songhees underline their ownership of the islands, with a new Zodiac boat to help keep trespassers out, Morris hopes more aboriginal young people will use the islands.
"When I lived here, there were never less than 20 people. The house was never empty," she said.
In time, members of the First Nation might also set up commercial tours so other people can experience the islands in a controlled way, said band councillor Ron Sam.
"It is a beautiful place and a mystical place," he said.
While most non-aboriginal visitors are not welcome on the islands, three Greater Victoria residents who have performed volunteer work on the islands for decades will be honoured guests.
Phil Teece, who has spent 52 years putting out fires on the islands, brushed away tears as he was presented with a card giving him authorized access.
"Almost half a century of my life has been spent sailing around [Chatham and Discovery Islands]," he said.
"To me, they are an almost impossible Garden of Eden.
They are empty and pristine and there's a poignancy because, being so close to the city, they are so vulnerable," he said.
Teece, 72, shudders when he thinks of fires he has put out and the damage they could have caused.
"It would take just one fire with an onshore wind to wipe out the islands," he said.
James Mantle has spent countless hours clearing every small estuary and gully of the Styrofoam and plastic debris that prevent wildlife from flourishing.
"I clean up the seaborne debris and refuse left by inconsiderate people," he said. "I thank Songhees for allowing me to go to the islands. These are mystic, mystic places."
The third pass was granted to Andrew Madding, who could not be at the ceremony.
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