A Way Of Life That Can Not Be Lost

Norm Hann – Guest Blogger

My first trip to the Gitgaat community of Hartley Bay on the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest was for Aboriginal Day after the opening of a Raven Longhouse with Chief Johnny Clifton, David Suzuki and Robert Kennedy JR in 2000.  Ten years later the place and its people have become part of who I am, inspiring me and providing some of the greatest and proudest moments I have ever had.

The Gitgaat have since adopted me as a member of the Raven Clan for the work I do with their youth and young adults as a basketball coach and teacher, my name, T’aam Laan, Steersman of the Canoe.

This winter I moved to Hartley Bay to teach an Essential Skills for Work Program through the Northwest Community College. As part of the program, every Wednesday, Helen Clifton, elder and matriarch, came to our class to teach the students about the Gitgaat culture, language and tradition. Her lessons have been invaluable and moving and while teaching about the Gitgaat culture she also warns us about the threats to its survival. The biggest and most imminent of these being Enbridge’s proposed pipeline and the oil tankers it would bring steaming past Hartley Bay.

After dealing with the sinking of the Queen of the North, Helen fears that if oil tankers are allowed to go through there is the likely potential that the Gitgaat way of life will be lost for good. As Band Councilor Cam Hill said after taking my class clam digging, “this makes us who we are.”

Having spent a decade here myself, I feel indebted to what this amazing place have provided me and I cannot imagine a people, with thousands of years of connection to their land not having this way of life.

This year I had the opportunity to help with food harvesting and see first hand how important these traditional areas are to the Gitgaat people . I dug for clams at one of the best clam beds on the coast, a short distance from Hartley Bay and was completely amazed with the prolific natural bounty from the sea. I have been here to see the return of the saviour fish, the eulachon, and I have been honored to help hang these dripping candlefish for my elders, all of them smiling while I was covered in grease.

I can only imagined how good it must feel for younger generations to do something that feels so natural and  bring food home to share with their families and elders.

I have been taken moose hunting by close friends in majestic rivers rich with cultural history and have watched community members long line for halibut, octopus and red snapper. And now I wait for spring camp where community elders will gather seaweed and halibut, something they have been doing for hundreds of years. I know this because they do not follow the calendar year; they just “feel it’s time.” Spending this time with elders and community members, the more I listen, the more I learn.

What have I learned? I have learned that what is here, the traditional food harvesting areas, the wildlife, and the philosophies of living in harmony with the earth is something special and rare that cannot be lost. The youth I hug in the school have to be able to live this traditional life and know who they are, what makes them Gitgaat.

As a result of my time here over the winter and the inspiration from Helen Clifton and the Elders I will be paddling my stand-up paddle-board along the proposed Enbridge Oil Tanker route from Kitimat to Bella Bella to bring awareness to the traditional food harvesting areas and wildlife that are at risk. It’s my attempt to complete the circle and give back to a place and people that have given me so much.

The paddle has not been done before and it will be over three hundred kilometers and through 4 First Nations territories. It is a paddle of culture and tradition, for past, present and future.

The paddle begins May 3. Follow live at www.mountainsurfadventures.blogspot.com and visit my facebook page STANDUP4GREATBEAR for updated information. Feel free to join me on any leg of the journey.

Norm Hann is a Wilderness Guide, Athlete, coach and teacher originally from Sudbury Ontario and now living in Squamish, B.C

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