After encountering Magdalena Angel a year ago while I was at Quest University covering the Global Issues Networking conference, I was immediately inspired by her passion for creating a youth paddle in the Great Bear Rainforest to raise awareness of the proposed super tanker route through Gitga’at territory. This led me to follow her journey to making her dream a reality – not an easy feat by far. Many fundraising concerts and events were held and multitudes of emails and phone calls were made to organize all the logistics, but finally the adventure unfolded in June 2012.
I caught up with the group in Kiel, a spring harvesting camp of the Gitga’at people where we were based for a few days before paddling back to Hartley Bay. The cove was littered with crushed sea shells, making for a tropical feel at times, especially in the sunshine we savoured for most of our visit. An elder, Helen, spoke to us about seaweed harvesting and voiced her concerns about the tankers coming to this wild coastline. We sampled spring salmon and other sea life and felt embraced by the community. Each evening we gathered by the bonfire to roast marshmallows and share laughs, often forgetting the time as the darkness only crept in around 11:30 pm.
A day trip consisted of a paddle to Cetacalab where Janie and Herman are the tireless whale researchers at the helm of a research project spanning back for more than 10 years. We learned about the negative effects on the whales from the noise of super tankers and listened to their incredible melodies, a sharp contrast to the abrasive sounds of tankers. And in perfect harmony, a humpback whale was spotted from the canoe just as we paddled away from the station.
A paddle to Sea Lion rocks was in order the next day – it was a rougher day on the water and we struggled in one section and had to head for cover behind a small island as the winds were so strong. But it was worth it for the shots of the lounging sea lions… I was snapping away and felt like I was on a safari!
The weather forecast for Sunday was looking dubious and our canoe guide sat intently next to a small hand-held radio the evening before, listening to the updates. However, when Cam Hill, the high school teacher who helped organize the trip, woke up at 4:30 am and saw how still the water was, he could barely wait to wake us all up, but fortunately for us he waited until 5 am to rouse us into action.
The paddle back to Hartley Bay took us about 7 hours on crystal clear waters and was punctuated by sightings of a solitary sea lion, a humpback off in the distance and an up-close encounter with three Orcas which swam by the canoe and support boats.
That evening a community feast was held in Hartley Bay and it was with some sadness that we left on the ferry the next morning, headed back to Prince Rupert and hit the road with the veggie oil bus, on the long drive back south to Vancouver.
Upon reflection, I am deeply moved by this experience in the Great Bear Rainforest and feel so honoured to have been a part of it all. The Gitga’at people welcomed us into their community with open arms and laughed with us and shared some of their traditional knowledge along the way.
Their passion for protecting this wild coastline is evident and it is clear why – super tankers the size of three football fields pose a deadly threat to their traditional way of life and to the lives of the animals to whom they are intimately connected. And so I continue now to write more articles aimed to educate people on the issues threatening the Great Bear and raise my voice in opposition to the Enbridge pipeline project. I know I am not alone and that together we can make a difference.
I also know that I, like everyone else on this canoe journey, will always carry a piece of this unique wilderness in my heart.