At the Indigenous Stewardship Leaders Gathering hosted by Nature United and Tides Canada, the focus was on well-being.
Across Canada, community-based Indigenous stewardship leaders play a critical role in supporting the health and well-being of their territories and their communities. They work hands on with their neighbors, with their colleagues, with officials at all levels of government; they make decisions about their lands and waters and who uses it and how; they negotiate permitting; they coordinate monitoring activities; they train staff and engage youth and conduct outreach.
“Going to work in the morning feels like walking face-first into the full blast of a fire hose most days,” says Jess Housty, councilor for the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and Director of Traditional Ecological Knowledge for the Qqs Projects Society. “It feels like if you don't keep working, keep up the pressure, you'll end up being knocked back farther than where you started from.”
It’s an important question: How do these community-based Indigenous stewardship leaders take care of themselves, their communities, and their lands and waters?
An Opportunity to "Pause, Take Stock, and Regenerate"
In early 2018, a group of Indigenous community leaders from across British Columbia gathered at the Brew Creek Center, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Territory as a first step toward a solution. The people who attended the gathering, which was hosted by Tides Canada and Nature United, discussed strategies, shared success stories, made connections for future projects. But they also focused on well-being — their communities’ and also their own.
“This is the first time I've attended a gathering that truly felt like the intent was to build a community of support rather than to mine the expertise of myself and my peers.”
“This is the first time I've attended a gathering that truly felt like the intent was to build a community of support rather than to mine the expertise of myself and my peers,” Housty says. “I think I can speak for most or all of the attendees when I say that we're people who have devoted ourselves to supporting the communities and causes we care about, and the cultural imperative driving our work makes it difficult for us to pause, take stock, and regenerate our energy.”
Nature United and Tides Canada have long worked with Indigenous communities on their priorities related to strengthening and supporting emerging and existing leaders, with a focus on capacity building. This can mean providing resources for First Nations-led science and monitoring projects or investing in youth leadership programs that help train the next generation of conservation stewards (such as SEAS). Or it can mean supporting a strong network of community leaders.
“It helps to know you’re not the only one out there,” says Megan Moody, former Stewardship Director of the Nuxalk Nation. “I think just knowing that this group exists is helpful. I can talk things through with others and build a friendship and take that with me for years.”
Maintaining the relationships with people in this group, she says, will build resilience among the network of leaders, and help effect fundamental change in our communities.
“There are strategies we’ll bring home right away,” she says. “For example, getting out on the land with your staff and recognizing the well-being of your staff is critical to our success and being able to do good work.”
“One of the best things we did at the gathering was take time to bring forward ideas, projects, and success stories we're proud of,” Housty says. “It was really affirming. I shared about our community garden in Bella Bella. It's a project close to my heart, even if it's not the biggest or most influential one on my plate.”
“Hearing the feedback from my peers about their excitement made me realize how much of an accomplishment it really is and connecting with others later in the gathering to share ideas about gardens made me realize how many milestones we've already hit.”
What Happens Next
Based on the conversations and outcomes of the gathering, Nature United and Tides Canada are supporting an ongoing forum, which will be coordinated by Moody and Housty, providing an opportunity for this group to stay connected and learn from each other, as well as engage other similar Indigenous stewardship leaders throughout British Columbia.
The first step will be some logistical planning, Moody points out. “We’re looking at how it will operate,” she says. “How will we share these success stories? How can we strategize toward solving bigger problems? What strategies can we bring home and implement now?”
“We know we're stronger together,” Housty says. “We know that our wellbeing is important. We know that a sense of community sustains our resilience. We know that we can help each other makes leaps and bounds when we share our own best practices and lessons learned. But it's so rare, in the chaos and pressure of our day-to-day lives, that we can really make time for those things. This gathering was a strong reminder for me of why my networks matter and how they keep me strong. And I hope we can replicate the energy that emerged from our time together by gathering again and again.”