“So what are you doing anyways?”
People have been asking me this a lot recently. In the beginning my answers were descriptions of the mechanics. We go out to various locations around the territory and set up barbwire snares. We hang up a rag in a tree with a novel scent to attract bears in the area to the snare. We cover a pile of sticks and moss with nasty smelling bait, made from fish fertilizer, to get the bears inside the snare. Then every ten days we check back for bear hair on the barbs – for DNA and stuff. A perfunctory response by any measure.
As we moved from set-up to sampling my answers began to change. I started to talk about what we were doing in terms of questions. I attempted to explain the questions the project is asking. Words like ‘data’ started to creep into my answers.
Then one night in the field station everything shifted. We had some special guests and the room was filled with excited energy. The “boys” had seen four bears in Elcho Harbour. Marley, Lia and I had spent the day on the helicopter. We had waded through rivers surging with this year’s melt and a solid week of rain. We hopped over mountain passes, climbed through bogs, and had serious equipment misadventures. It had been a pretty magical day. Everyone was stoked and stories swirled around the room.
Somehow I slip into a conversation with Doug Neasloss about traditional ecological knowledge versus science. It’s a slippery conversation with many holes to fall into. The conversation eventually boils down to a battle royale between eight years spent in an academic setting versus a life spent growing up and learning on the land. Who is the expert?
Doug and I circle around the question of validation. In this strange dance between traditional ecological knowledge and science neither side seems to be very good at validating the other. There is always the “versus” in the conversation.
Suddenly I realize it’s a dance. Like a waltz the dancers are taking opposite steps but working towards the same end goal. We all want to protect a beautiful piece of the world for future generations to enjoy and protect.
The Great Bear Rainforest: a clever English name coined to inspire people to take up the role as stewards of this area. To me it has a much simpler name: home. I was raised in a family, community, and culture that ensured I would love this place. I was taught to think about one day being an elder who could look back on my life and be satisfied with my role as protector of the future generations.
This experience has given me so much more than days out on the water and land. It has allowed me to see the other side of the story. Watching Lia and Marley’s faces light up watching a mama bear and her cubs graze on sedges helped me to understand. The stories and excitement of our guests and the crew that night in the field station helped me to understand. We all want to ensure this place is here for many generations to come. Maybe I want to make sure it’s here for my children to harvest food and medicines and “they” want their children to still see bears, wolves, and beautiful inlets undisturbed by logging, but in the end it’s all the same. We want the same things.