In the Kwak̓wala language, “ǥa̱lǥa̱poła” means “standing together,” or “lifting each other up.” Twice each year, that’s exactly what the Guardians of the six Nanwakolas Council member First Nations of the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network do when they gather to learn about each other’s work, challenges, and successes over the past season, and – most importantly of all – to reconnect with each other.
Twenty-odd Guardians and their colleagues are staring intently and silently at the screen at the end of the conference room they are sitting in. The tension is palpable. The presenter points at the screen, and reads out loud what it says: “This regulation enables the protection of cultural plants on the mainland side of the territories.”
No sooner has she uttered the last word then several Guardians start shouting at her, and frantically thumping on the brightly coloured plastic “buzzers” in their hands. Chip Mountain, a young Mamalilikulla Guardian, gets in first. After a quick conference with his team, he calls out: “What is the Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Order!”
Chip and his colleagues are playing “Guardian Jeopardy!”, a team-building exercise designed for the Guardians to relax, blow off some much-needed steam, and just have some fun after a long day of listening to technical presentations and workshops covering everything from longitudinal watershed research to elk collaring to hydrographic techniques for studying submerged archaeological sites.
Chip’s answer is correct, and despite the best efforts of the other team to protest – amidst much shouting, laughter, and teasing – his team gets the points. Fist-pumping and hugs ensue. Broad grins adorn every face in the room; arms are around shoulders, and the sense of camaraderie, friendship, and sisterly and brotherly love between these men and women – who have worked together over the previous season in enormously challenging weather and terrain, in a difficult and limiting regulatory environment, and not least of all, with the burden of colonial racist history, policies and actions still heavy on their shoulders – is both tangible and immensely inspirational.
A time of renewal and refreshment
“Being with the other Guardians, it strengthens our connections. Working together this way, I find it makes us stronger.”
—Krissy Brown, K’ómoks Guardian
The Ha-ma-yas Guardian Gatherings, held in the spring and winter each year, are an opportunity for the Guardians to refresh and reinvigorate themselves, and to renew bonds with each other.
Former Mamalilikulla elected Chief Richard Sumner reflects: “These Gatherings are important for several reasons. One of them is being recognized by their peers, that sense of togetherness that they have. They spend a lot of time on their own, doing their work in their territories. To come together and to see and assess and witness what the other Nations have been doing really matters. It’s a way of validating the work that they do.”
Wei Wai Kum Guardian Manager Karl Smith could not agree more: “It’s important that we keep these going so we keep our togetherness. There are no two Guardian groups that operate the same,” he adds emphatically. “We all do different monitoring in our territories, for example. We have different priorities. So, we do presentations to everybody on our work, to show what we’re doing throughout the year. It’s all good work, and it’s interesting to hear about it all and learn from each other.”
Learning together, sharing knowledge and experience
“It’s such a big benefit for the Guardians to come together and to share stories with each other, and spend that time with each other,” confirms Wei Wai Kum elected Chief Councillor Christopher Roberts. “The exchange of information is really important, and what you can learn from each other. Building that camaraderie amongst them is key as well – I think it really helps with their self-confidence to know that they’re not alone, to know that they have brothers and sisters in their neighbouring Nations that are going through similar experiences and challenges.”
“I know for myself,” says Tlowitsis Guardian Mike Stadnyck, “even though parts of the season may have been a struggle, knowing other people in the room that also struggle with some of their work helps me deal with my challenges. This Guardian stewardship work is a community unto itself. We’re very, very unique in that way.”
“The most important thing is seeing everybody, and connecting, communicating, and just sharing the different values that we have,” agrees Wei Wai Kum Guardian David Cliffe. “How you can help me, how I can help you. Our old way is sharing and giving. At the Gatherings, we can keep that old practice, bringing it to the present by sharing our knowledge, by learning from other professionals. That way we have our future.”
Nanwakolas Council would like to thank the sponsors of the December 2023 winter Gathering, which include the Canadian Coast Guard, MaPP (Marine Planning Partnership), Nature United, Coast Funds and the Hakai Institute.