2017 Coastal Stewardship Network Annual Gathering

At the 2017 Coastal Stewardship Network Annual Gathering, Guardian Watchmen get together to share ideas and stories, and gear up for a busy summer stewarding their territories.

On a rare sunny day in late April, Coastal Guardian Watchmen, along with stewardship managers and directors, board a boat and head due south from Prince Rupert, bouncing their way down BC’s North and Central Coast.

Passengers from Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert are joined by others in Hartley Bay and Bella Bella—all bound for the 2017 Coastal Stewardship Network Annual Gathering at the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island, the event’s venue for the eighth year. Though the gathering has not yet officially begun, everyone is already catching up and sharing stories during the day-long trip, and soon they’ll join others from Klemtu, Bella Coola and Wuikinuxv, who will arrive at Hakai in their own boats.

As in past years, the gathering features plenty of discussion and camaraderie, but there’s something else this year, and it’s notable not just on the jubilant trip down, but throughout the three-day event. In addition to the Guardian Watchmen and other stewardship staff from across BC’s coastal communities, community Elders are here to share their knowledge and wisdom, and that brings a new dynamic that will surely be replicated in future events.

Perhaps more than any other year, the 2017 gathering was about making connections across generations, as much as collaborating between coastal communities. “Every generation has a responsibility to build a bridge to the past and the teachings of their ancestors,” said Haida Elder Captain Gold, during his presentation on the origins of the Guardian Watchmen movement. “As we work together, we learn from each other, and that common understanding helps us make our way in life.”

Two other Elders in attendance—Elizabeth Brown (Heiltsuk) and Clarence Nelson Sr. (Metlakatla)—offered heartfelt words to open and close the gathering, and shared their perspectives throughout the event.

As for the Guardian Watchmen, they shared community updates with their colleagues and others in attendance, highlighting their accomplishments and challenges over the past year. They also engaged in a full day of risk management and safety training, and got an update and refresher on the Regional Monitoring System used by Guardians and stewardship managers.

To complement talks from the Elders, Heiltsuk Stewardship Director Kelly Brown delved into some key lessons learned from the tragic Nathan E. Stewart tugboat spill, and special guest Valerie Courtois, from the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, introduced the proposed National Indigenous Guardians Network.

The gathering was a chance to catch up and learn from each other, a golden opportunity to make new plans for collaboration and to nurture long-held relationships even more. It involved a rare combination of practical training and the kind of intangible learning that only comes from spending time with those who have a lifetime of knowledge to impart.

The three Elders who made the trip offered each participant something invaluable. “I don’t have all the technology, but I have years of knowledge and wisdom, and I have learned so much from my Elders,” said Clarence Nelson Sr., after sitting in on training for the Regional Monitoring System. “We need to do things from one heart, and that’s what we have done here.”

That sentiment that was echoed by all in attendance, young and old. In closing the gathering, Elizabeth Brown summed it up nicely. “I’ve seen a lot of working together here and it warms my heart,” she said. “I encourage all of you to stay united, because that is the only way you will succeed. One mind, one heart.”

Many thanks to the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv for welcoming us into their territories and to our funders for all their support—The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation, Tides Canada and TNC Canada. And a special thank you to the Tula Foundation and Hakai Institute for being such gracious hosts.