Monthly Archives: May 2013

Exploring consilience in the GBR

This May, I was privileged to co-instruct a field course with a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Chris Darimont, through UVic’s Department of Geography. Along with 15 bright and amazing students, we explored the theme of consilience – in particular, how western science and indigenous knowledge can run parallel or even overlap to achieve stronger stewardship objectives.

It was my first experience teaching. And it was magical. Together, we explored many of the landscapes that are dearest to my heart: Koeye, Hakai, and Goose Island. Students brought diverse backgrounds to bear on the values, ideas and solutions common to biology, ecology, environmental studies, geography, First Nations studies, resource management, political science, and even my background in literature.


What I want to share is this: Meaningful and authentic collaboration is possible. It has a language and a grammar that root our conversations in respect. It has basic principles that guide our interactions and teach us to navigate a route together. It is multidisciplinary, it is exciting, and it is a process that is never completed. That’s where the sweetness lies.

The other thing I want to share is this: The fifteen students who participated in our class are already leaders in their field, and they are growing to be experts on collaboration and engagement, authenticity and respect, and yes, on consilience. It was a pleasure dear to my heart to share this time with Chris, and I’m deeply grateful for everyone who was so gentle with me as I walked this path with them.



There are still enchanted forests in the world


Courage, and a feather.

It was with a great deal of heaviness in my heart that I read about Elijah Harper’s passing yesterday.

It is a difficult thing to be called to leadership in life before you feel ready. It doesn’t matter what the scale of your leadership is; when your values make you passionate about catalyzing positive change in your life and the lives of others, the weight of what’s before you often feels heavy. You want to be prepared. You want to do justice to the trust people put in your ability to come through.

One of the things that gives you courage is the transition between different generations. You know that you’re walking the traplines laid down by your predecessors. You know the brushtrails have been cleared for you, and that it’s your turn to take to those trails and seek sustenance for yourself and your people. It’s your time to walk through the landscape of power that the heads, hearts and hands of your ancestors and your teachers created for you.

You want guidance. And you want the opportunity to give gratitude to those who provide it.


The man in this image is Elijah Harper. He went on ahead to walk with the ancestors yesterday, and though my heart is heavier for it, I know they’re celebrating to have him in their midst. I did not know him personally. But he is someone who has guided me, and I’d hoped to someday have the opportunity to give him my gratitude for it.

I’m not going to tell his story here. I’m not going to eulogize him. His life and leadership deserve more eloquence than I can provide. He is and always will be, for me, a symbol of the power you can wield and the change you can make with courage and an eagle feather in your hand.

He is, in a very large way, one of those incredible people who gave this gift to my generation: Reclamation of our sovereignty as indigenous people is not a dream, but a possibility. And with courage, and an eagle feather in our hands, we can help to realize the things he fought for his whole life.

May he continue to guide us and feel our gratitude carried up on the sacred smoke.

Mnukvs wuaxdi: Tar Sands Healing Walk 2013

In 2012, one of my first council activities outside my community was a visit to Fort McMurray to attend the Tar Sands Healing Walk. It was one of the most powerful, beautiful and challenging experiences of my life, and I blogged about it here.

I was honoured to receive an invitation from the Keepers of the Athabasca to attend the Tar Sands Healing Walk again in 2013, and received permission from our leadership today to walk in solidarity on behalf of Heiltsuk this July.

There is grassroots and place-based power, and there are local issues that affect our community and territory. But we have brothers and sisters across the coast, the province, the country and this beautiful planet who have their own power too. Together, what we wield has an incredible ability to speak and heal.

I am pleased, proud, and deeply humbled by the opportunity to walk with the spirit of my people behind me to bring messages of healing, strength and collaboration to this important gathering.

Mnukvs wuaxdi

Mnukvs wuaxdi

As our community has found its voice around energy issues, our guiding value has held us steady: Mnukvs wuaxdi. One heart. I will be bringing my love and the love of my people in July, and I’m honoured to be one messenger on behalf of many.

Walas gaiasixa to the Keepers of the Athabasca for honouring me with an invitation.

For the bears

One of my challenges living and working in such a remote geography is a feeling of isolation. Often, the scope of my universe is limited to the territory of my people, and there is power in being rooted primarily in my home geography.

But you realize quickly that the scale of the issues we all face is rarely local. Although I prefer grassroots work, that work is empowered by connections to the broader network of powerful people who are bringing their good heart to issues at every scale.

In our environmental work, and in our ceremonial work as well, our relationship to bears is one example of the many incredible touchstones that guide us. We’ve worked at Qqs, for example, to engage and educate our young people through our cultural programming about the importance of bears in our songs and rituals. We’ve also led research on grizzly bear DNA in important watersheds in our territory.

To the north and south and on the mainland, our neighbours have been doing their own good work around bears. Collectively, we’ve invested efforts in scientific research, developing solutions to human/bear conflict, maintaining a sense of cultural connection to bears, operating sustainable bear-viewing ecotourism programs, and finding ways to live with the animals that have been strong characters in the narrative of our coastal people since time before memory.

Do bears respect territory boundaries? Of course not. And our people have worked, traded, married and traveled across those same territory boundaries for a hundred generations. Together, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xaixais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv have begun an amazing and precedent-setting shared conversation about how we can make our relationship to bears more powerful through collaboration.

This past weekend, I was honoured to be part of a group of Heiltsuk stewards who traveled to a beautiful estuary in overlap territory where bears live in harmony with an incredible and productive ecosystem. We joined stewards from Klemtu, Bella Coola and Rivers Inlet and allies from a number of external organizations with a simple purpose:

To feast together, and to share stories.

There is an incredible power that comes from settling yourself into a space in the landscape where your ancestors lived. To see the tents go up, to smell the fish cooking on the fire, to see dozens of people feasting on a shared meal of our traditional foods – and sharing stories to reaffirm our conviction around working together for the good of our ursine relatives – it nestled a joy deep in my heart that continues to empower me now that I’ve returned to the office.

So much of what we do to fight for the lands, waters and creatures we care about happens in the board rooms and behind our computer screens. It is good and right to give ourselves time to gather in the watersheds and amongst the grizzlies, to reaffirm why we’re doing our work – and why we’re doing it together.

I am grateful to everyone who joined us at our solidarity camp. For the bears. For our four Nations. And in the spirit of our ancestors.

Four Nations

Four Nations Solidarity Camp

Geographies of Hunger (poem)

I have laid down my traplines
on your body, my love.

I can read the slope of your shoulders
like an animal’s trail;
the sheen of your sweat
is like a trace of soil on my tongue
that lets me taste your wanderings.

The arc of your spine under my palm,
the dip of a dry creekbed –

the patterns of cracks and fissures
around your eyes, the corners of your mouth –

your hips, your knees,
and other asymmetrical rounded things –

the taut line of your lips argues
with the rest of your body,
does not argue with me.

I smell the earth in your skin and I taste it,
see the rain on it, see the rain run slowly
across the hills and valleys of your naked body
that is not mine.

I have laid down my traplines
on your body, my love,
but your body is not my body
and your warmth and your blood are not mine.