In organizing this field course I was concerned that students encounter First Nations' perspectives on sustainability issues. Prior to European contact the Nuu-Chah-Nulth inhabited Clayoquot sound in the tens of thousands. They lived sustainably in this region for over six thousand years. However, in the last century these communities have been severely reduced, aspects of their culture are lost, and their homeland has been radically transformed. Surely, the remaining members of this culture have acquired views about these changes, and it is these impressions that I hoped we might begin to understand. However, it is not easy for outsiders to gain access to this perspective. For decades, European Canadians representing governments, religious organizations and (more recently) industries have approached indigenous communities with "good intentions". Time and time again, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth have suffered the consequences of these interactions. It is entirely understandable that members of these communities have grown suspicious of outsiders, especially those who show up with lots of questions.
I am therefore extremely grateful for the generosity of Stephen and Karen Charleson who run the Hooksum Outdoor School in the Hesquiaht territory, at the northern end of Clayoquot Sound. Our discussions over this two day visit have informed by understanding not only of this territory, but of environmental issues more generally. I find it an intimidating prospect to document these insights here: I am unable to do them justice. But I will attempt to convey some of the main themes of our discussions. Perhaps it is best to start with an account of how we travelled to Hesquiaht.
It is approximately a 60 kilometre water-taxi ride to Hooksum outdoor school. The journey takes about 1.5 hours when the coast isn't blanketed in a thick curtain of fog, as it was this morning. The seas were not overly rough (about 1.5 meters at most). But the limited visibility (less than 5 meters) left several of us feeling uneasy. No one was sea sick. But it was close. The trip took over two hours and there wasn't much conversation.
Eventually the fog broke and we emerged in Hesquiaht bay. One of the first things that one notices are the scarred hillsides due to recent logging activity. Despite these, the area feels welcoming and naturally abundant. Our boat was received by Stephen Charleson who ferried us to shore by canoe.
We were welcomed on shore with a generous lunch. Stephen explained how much he appreciated our visit, knowing the distance involved in getting here. He proposed that we sit for a while, relax, and get accustomed to the area. So we spent some time taking in the surroundings. It was not long before the discussion took an interesting direction.