We travelled for two long days with “Emma” our veggie oil bus. Each day took us about 12 hours, from Vancouver to Prince George and from Prince George to Prince Rupert. In PG we stayed with a wonderful family, thinking that we would camp in their backyard, they actually took us into their home as a result of a rain storm that had passed not too long before we arrived. The next day we travelled through dry valleys towards the west until we met the lush forests and mountain peaks of the coast. Camping in Prince Rupert was fun and we got to feel like we were finally getting ready for the wild… sort of. A cold mist woke us up early in the morning as we experienced a different climate than what we had been experiencing in the lower mainland.
Arriving Hartley Bay was a beautiful experience for all of us. We had a warm welcome from the community and we ate delicious freshly-caught salmon in different forms: baked and boiled. On our second night we got to try gyoos (herring spawn on kelp) which we found was very noisy when we chewed.
Getting out on the canoe for the first day was really exciting! Finally, we were on the water, doing what we’d been talking about doing for so long. Carrying the canoe down to the water was also an adventure, our muscles were already sore and we hadn’t even started paddling! We got it done safely though, and once on the water we were going fast. For some of the Hartley Bay students it was their first time on the canoe and it was great to see the smiles all around.
~Creating community and sharing together, two cultures learning about each other and acting for something that they both deeply cherish~
On June 7th we did our big push, an 8 hour day on the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest in Gitga’at territory. We paddled a portion of the proposed tanker route for the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. We went from Hartley Bay, through Wright Sound where the ferry Queen of the North sank in 2006. Then down
Lewis Pass to Squally Channel. On our way over to Kiel the group that was paddling had to use all of the energy that they had left to battle some stronger winds and bigger waves… but with some cheering and lots of support from our support vessels, they made it to Kiel.
On our second day in Kiel we paddled to Cetacea Lab, on Gil Island, and we learned about the steady increase of whale populations and how the proposed supertankers could affect them. It was special for me to learn that some of the students from Hartley Bay had known Hermann and Janie (the two whale researchers) their whole lives, but had not yet had the opportunity to visit Cetacea Lab to learn about what they do there. I was happy that the GBR Youth Paddle could contribute to making that experience happen for them.
Kiel is a magical place, after we left Cetacea Lab, one of our support boat operators caught the largest salmon of the season! That night he shared it with the whole camp. One of the best salmon dinners I’ve ever had, a freshly-caught salmon 38 pounder!
Giving and Gratitude
While we were up in Kiel, we spent all of our days with amazing friends who were keen to accept us into their community and share their lives with us through games, food, and stories. I was grateful for the kindness I received from the Gitga’at First Nations, which reminded me of how simple things in life are meaningful… There were our nights by the bon fire, the sound of the waves sweeping the shores of Kiel, and the casual greetings from Cameron Hill’s students that made me feel like we had all been friends for a long time… The abundance of nature in Hartley Bay surrounded by rivers and mountains, the orcas and porpoises that greeted us on our canoe journey made us feel connected to where we all came from- mother Earth. I think that these two reasons are what makes Hartley Bay so special and ultimately brings people together.
My time in Hartley Bay has taught me that maintaining a sustainable livelihood with nature comes from within. With an intimate relationship with people in Kiel and Hartley, the whole community is one big family. The respect and openness that the Gitga’at people have for their families, friends and natural surrounding is the essence that is worth sharing. This personal connection to the place has inspired me in moving forward to value things intrinsically and to learn more about how to combat the threatening and short-sighted path of the crude oil industry.
On the beach of Kiel the night’s darkness has set in and the only light comes from the fire, the starry sky and the phosphorescence in the ocean. The silence is only broken by wolves in the distance and us relaxing and enjoying each other’s company after a full day of paddling from Hartley Bay to Kiel. We started the journey just as we finished it; both the paddle leaving Hartley Bay and coming into Kiel were strong as everyone paddled with a sense of determination and purpose. This day of paddling brought us a little bit of everything: waves, wind, rain, sun, calm waters, whales, and sea lions. It also gave us an appreciation for this rich, pristine, delicate, intricate, and breathtaking coast.
Seeing this area by canoe is a unique experience, especially when shared with the Gitga’at First Nations youth. This is a special group of young people, who are exceptionally kind, motivated, passionate, and eager to share their culture, community, and knowledge of the area with us.
I have always loved the coast of BC and spending time in the Great Bear Rainforest has only made this love stronger. I now more than ever feel inspired and obligated to continue saying no to oil on this coast. Tankers in this area would destroy the coastal environment and ruin the way of life for everyone that calls the Great Bear Rainforest home, be that the spirit bear, humpback whale, or the Gitga’at First Nations.
Stand up for what you and so many other people love. Together we will keep oil off of this coast!
We Journey On
Our departure day from Hartley Bay was very emotional for me. I cried. However, the tears that streamed down my face were from overwhelming happiness. The time that I was able to spend with the Gitga’at people in both Hartley Bay and Kiel was filled with an abundance of richness that is difficult to put into words.
As I reflected on the moments that transpired within the week I became friends with many of the youth in the community, I felt my eyes beginning to water. When it came my turn to talk in front of the youth, as well as the group I came with, I began crying. The words I spoke were truly from the heart. I was crying because I didn’t want to leave all the friends I had just made. I was crying because I didn’t want to leave the majestic scenery and environment that had surrounded me the past 11 days. Most importantly, I was crying because I was truly happy.
Going to Hartley Bay has opened my eyes to all the amazing people in our world and the important work that they do. People like Cam Hill, people like Helen Clifton, and people like Marven. These are the ones who fight for the things in our world that need to be stood up for, like the environment and community that they care dearly for. Their efforts may not be broadcast outside their community, but they are the ones changing our world for the better. Hearing them speak throughout the week always made me frustrated because they often spoke of the lack of understanding people have for their cultural values. However, it also made me happy because they are optimistic and still hold out hope that the correct decision will be made regarding the supertankers. The richness that has filled me from joining the community for 8 days is an experience I will never forget. The tears I cried that day are ones of joy. They will help me to return to the magical place in the near future, a future that will always be too far away.