If you get a chance to meet Alec James Willie, one thing will be immediately clear—he truly loves his job. Whether it’s his permanent smile, infectious laugh or stories about caring for the lands and waters of Wuikinuxv Territory, Willie’s positivity shines through.
Although he’s been a Wuikinuxv Guardian Watchmen for two years, Willie was born in Bella Coola and spent time in both Port Hardy and Vancouver—a varied background that serves him well when interacting with tourists, sport fishers and others on the water. “I was only supposed to be in Rivers Inlet for two months, but then I became a Guardian,” he says. “I’m glad I stuck around.”
Willie and three other Guardians work to monitor and protect cultural and ecological resources throughout Wuikinuxv and carry out extensive research activities to better understand local species and ecosystems. This spring, he says, they’ve already conducted a pyropia (seaweed) survey and a bear survey. The latter involved collecting hair samples from several bait sites throughout the area, which are analyzed to learn more about local bears. “We simulate kill sites and use a strong scent, like dog-fish oil, to attract bears to each site,” he says. “We then set up barbed wire, which the bears will brush past and hopefully snag their fur.”
The team also conducts regular crab surveys to identify population changes and any signs of disease. “We did our first survey in February, and actually had to break through some ice,” he says. “There doesn’t seem to be as many crabs, which is concerning. There are so many people out there with traps when we do patrols—it’s just not sustainable long term.”
Fisheries managers and other Wuikinuxv locals have witnessed firsthand the effects of overharvesting, which is one of the main reasons the Guardian program was created. For Willie, that broader focus is always top-of-mind. “It’s not just about improving things today,” he says, referring to his daily task of ensuring people comply with rules and regulations. “It’s for all generations to come as well.”
With the future in mind, Willie has been actively brushing up on his environmental knowledge. Last March, he graduated from the two-year Stewardship Technicians Training Program (STTP)—a unique program co-led by Coastal First Nations, along with Vancouver Island University, that provides stewardship training for First Nations throughout BC’s Central and North Coast and Haida Gwaii.
Along with thirteen other classmates, Willie was able to travel to other coastal areas, including Tsimshian, Haida and Heiltsuk territories, to learn applied stewardship skills through intensive training, both in the field and in the classroom. “It was an amazing experience,” says Willie. “And I’ve been using all that knowledge back home for sure.”