Alaska, Meet Great Bear
What happens when you bring together people across a 100-million-acre rainforest?
On a clear, cool night gathered around a crackling fire in the middle of a rainforest, it was as if the 800 kilometers between southeast Alaska and the tiny coastal community of Bella Bella, in British Columbia, had melted away.
One by one, young voices joined together in traditional songs that had been handed down through generations. Using kindling as drumsticks, they carried the rhythm as the outer circle of onlookers—including educators, leaders
Connecting Across a Whole System
We call this landscape—the world’s largest intact coastal rainforest, spanning the coasts of Washington, B.C. and southeast Alaska—the Emerald Edge. By looking at this scale, Nature United has facilitated connections between First Nations who are striving to ensure the well-being of their communities and the resources they depend on.
“We’re all the same people, sharing culture, water, and resources, and dealing with similar challenges,” summed up Carrie, a delegate who lives in the Haida village of Kasaan, in Alaska. “It only makes sense that we work together.”
Koeye was an extra special place to host the cross-border exchange: It is the site where First Nations youth gather to learn about their culture and traditional lands, as part of an initiative called SEAS, or Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards. As Bob, an SSP resource manager, recounted,
“Over the three days we spent at Koeye, I had conversations with young people and teachers that spoke volumes about the value of the SEAS program to them personally, and to the present and future vitality of their culture and communities.”
Salmon, Bears, and People
The camp at Koeye was founded by the Qqs Projects Society, a Heiltsuk non-profit based out of Bella Bella (Qqs means “eyes” in Heiltsuk and is pronounced kucks.) The Koeye River is also where all five species of Pacific salmon spawn throughout the year, and consequently, it is critical bear habitat. The Heiltsuk are engaged in long-term research and monitoring to better understand and manage this place. The watershed was designated by the Heiltsuk as a conservation area through the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, the final phase of which was completed this past February.
In Bella Bella, the delegation also spent time with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, learning about how the nation has done extensive mapping of traditional use data and influenced resource development in their territory. The delegates shared stories and successes from Alaska, including forestry partnerships, business competitions to spur economic growth, and salmon habitat restoration.
Learning Through Connection
“A trip like this really drives home our connection to one another through the land and the sea, and our common interests in cultural diversity, youth education, wild food gathering and the awe-inspiring beauty of the Emerald Edge,” wrote Bob, following the exchange.
Back to the campfire. After the third song, one young man suggested that they dance. A few brave ones got up and circled the fire. They moved with a confidence and pride that seems rare for children this age. It was a moment that reflected the cornerstone of SEAS: fostering a connection to place, culture and identity. It was a moment of deep connection and learning that could not be described, that had to be experienced—and fortunately, the Alaskan delegation was there to witness it first-hand.