On a barely visible trail leading from the Hakai Institute on BC’s Calvert Island, Wuikinuxv Guardian Watchmen Patrick Johnson crashes through the dense bushes looking for culturally modified trees. He’s trying to remember how it looked a decade ago, when he surveyed this area to ensure the future research station would not disturb any sites of cultural significance.
“When I first came here, there was no float and no wharf,” says Johnson. “We had to anchor out on the water before coming ashore. We dug test holes all around the site, and sifted through everything, but all we found was a lot of fish bones.”
Johnson is here again this fall, not for work or to visit, but to brush up on his land monitoring skills—one of several stewardship courses he’s taking during his second year with the Stewardship Technicians Training Program. After this two-week stint at Hakai and another in Prince Rupert late October, Johnson and the rest of his tight-knit cohort will meet for more courses in January on Haida Gwaii, before graduation in March 2018.
Although he’ll be happy to graduate and gain new credentials to back up the stewardship work he’s doing for his community, Johnson will be sad to part ways with his classmates. “When we first started, we didn’t know each other and didn’t say much at all,” he recalls. “Now we’re a family; we do everything together.”
Johnson says he’s learned a lot from the program—not just in classes, but also from the diverse group of students drawn from Nations along the coast. “I was really shy before, but this program opened me up,” he says. “Either I knew things and would teach the other students, or they knew stuff, and would teach me. It works both ways.”
When he’s not in stewardship training, Johnson spends most of his time patrolling the waters throughout Wuikinuxv Territory around River’s Inlet, where he draws upon a lifetime of knowledge of the local environment and waterways. Although he’s only been a Guardian Watchmen for about a year, that long-time experience is extremely useful for the younger Guardians who work with him. “I’m just teaching them the land; where you can fish, where you can’t fish, and what rocks you have to avoid,” he says with a laugh.
Beyond spending time with classmates and other Guardian Watchmen, Johnson says he enjoys meeting outsiders and educating them about the significance of the region and Wuikinuxv history and culture—just one aspect of his job on patrol.
“We meet people from all over the world,” says Johnson. “We tell them our story and they tell us their story; then we let them know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” That could involve a range of things, he says, such as checking fishing gear and traps to make sure they’re following regulations, and also ensuring they are staying within the proper boundaries.
Either way, it’s an essential job that everyone appreciates. “We’re the eyes and ears on the land and water,” explains Johnson. “The fishermen know us and they call us by name; they’re glad we’re here to monitor things.”