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.