Coastal Guardian Watchmen gather together for their 10th annual conference

For 10 years running, Coastal Guardian Watchmen and other stewardship staff have come together for a springtime gathering—a chance to see old friends and colleagues, and to share stories and ideas about regional stewardship efforts throughout the North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii.

In addition to the Guardians who attended from CFN member Nations, the gathering benefited from the knowledge and perspectives of community Elders, who joined the group and participated in all activities.

Wuikinuxv Elder Frank Hanuse described the coast before over-fishing by outside interests depleted resources. “You could practically walk across the Wannock River, the salmon were so thick, as were the eulachon,” he recalled. “I wish Guardians were working here 20 years ago. It would be a lot different today along the coast.” And Metlakatla Elder Fanny Nelson spoke about the importance of connecting youth and knowledge keepers: “Elders used to bring kids with them everywhere; that’s how they learned. Growing up, I spent my time working with my Mom and Dad. I learned everything from them.”

There was no shortage of learning at this gathering—from each other and the Elders, and from a packed agenda over three days. After representatives from each Guardian Watchmen program shared their updates, including lessons learned from the past year and priorities for the upcoming season, all participants received whale disentanglement training from international experts at the Blue World Research Institute and The Nature Conservancy.

On day two, a joint training exercise with the Canadian Coast Guard had everyone’s blood pumping. Simulating a real-life emergency in the waters around Calvert Island, the search and rescue exercise had every Guardian out on their boats, conducting emergency response procedures, searching for casualties, and maintaining radio communications with each other and Coast Guard representatives.

After two busy days, there was still time and energy to actively test the Regional Monitoring System’s new CoastTracker app, which Guardians and other coastal field technicians will be further testing throughout the 2018 field season.

Given all that training and skills development, the gathering was a great learning experience on multiple levels. As always, it was also a wonderful opportunity for Guardians to connect with each other and swap stories about shared goals for protecting their coastal territories.

“I’m so proud to hear these stories,” said Haida Elder Joyce Bennett to close the event. A Naani for the Rediscovery program on Haida Gwaii, Bennett shared the same sentiment as Fanny Nelson a few days earlier, comparing the important work of today’s Guardians with the roots of such knowledge, which can only come from a strong connection with the land. “There’s still lots of work to be done,” she told them. “Just remember to always have a light heart on your journey.”