For Klemtu resident Chantal Pronteau, a Kitasoo/Xai’xais Guardian Watchman and Stewardship Technicians Training Program graduate, being a steward is first and foremost a people thing.
When Chantal Pronteau moved back to her hometown of Klemtu in 2008, it was a bit of a culture shock.
Although she was born there, and always called the Central Coast home, she spent much of her early childhood in Vancouver. “Growing up among non-nature things in the city, and sometimes around bad influences, I just realized what was more important,” she explains. “So, I just poured myself into training.”
For Pronteau, that training was focused on the outdoors and reconnecting with nature. In 2010, she landed a summer job working out on the water and in the field, where she cleared trails and strapped on hip-waders to monitor local creeks—from there she was hooked. “That was a real learning experience, and it showed me what I was missing,” she recalls. “I was totally disconnected before.”
Pronteau says she always knew about First Nations culture and history, but for awhile she knew more about First Nations in eastern Canada than about her own West Coast people. But she also believes those years in the city gave her a sense of diversity, and some knowledge from the western world to go along with other types of learning.
“That goes hand in hand with the kind of work we do here,” says Pronteau, referring to her current role interacting with the public as a Kitasoo/Xai’xais Guardian Watchman. “You meet a lot of people coming in to our community, and you get to educate them—sometimes it’s the smallest thing, but often it’s much bigger. I feel like they walk away with a better understanding.”
Today, she gets to spend most of her time outdoors—doing everything from compliance monitoring on local waterways to collecting hair samples from grizzly bears in the region. “Working in the Great Bear Rainforest, you’re always in the water—whether it’s on the boat or walking on land, it’s always raining,” she says. “You just have to suck it up.” And if you can learn to live with the rainy days, she adds, you’ll appreciate those nice, sunny days even more.
In addition to her work as a Guardian Watchman, Pronteau was one of 14 students to graduate from the Stewardship Technicians Training Program, a training initiative co-led by Coastal First Nations and Vancouver Island University, and she received her certificate at a special graduation ceremony in Prince Rupert this past March.
Beyond learning new stewardship skills, and brushing up on many others she already had, Pronteau says the training program was a real eye-opener when it came to the diversity of communities throughout the North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii. “You learn a lot about these regions and what the people are going through,” says Pronteau. “When you’re learning right in those communities, you really feel that.”
Most of all, though, she loved the camaraderie. “My favourite part of the program was building that community, creating that sense of unification with everybody and understanding all the different points of view; that was huge,” she says.
As with her work as a Guardian Watchman, Pronteau likes to focus on those aspects of the training that can help build bridges between people and communities. “When you put these different people together, including the instructors and coordinators, it really helps us learn,” she says. “It’s about understanding each other’s beliefs, and putting that into practice. It’s like saying, ‘OK, this is who you are and this is who we are; this is what we want to achieve and how we can do it together.’”
With all that diverse learning behind her, Pronteau has big ideas for the future, and says she’d love to work with young people to get them more involved in stewardship. But for now, one thing is certain and that’s Klemtu. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else,” she says. “There’s no other place for me.”