Administration and Oversight

AGM 2016/17 Report from Chair of the Suzuki Elder Council

“Numbers and Learnings”

“What do you Suzuki Elders actually DO?” is a question we are often asked.  I’m never sure if people ask out of some romantic hope that if they join us they get to climb up on the barricades to wave a flag with David Suzuki’s face on it, or perhaps they think that as Suzuki Elders they would be expected to provide scientific pro-environment lectures on request.   My answer is always two-part.  First, we walk a line in between both those images.  Suzuki Elders participate with others in actions to support a sustainable planet and we research, develop and provide interesting learning experiences for other elders and youth.  The second part of my answer is that we also strive, as a group, to be curious about issues, to educate ourselves, to consider new analyses. If there is any model we fit, it is that of the lifelong learner.  We are also irascible at times, (an elders prerogative!), stubborn, hopeful, passionate, caring, and open to shifting our viewpoints.

I want to tell the story of numbers and learnings over this past year, May 2016 to April 2017.  What did we do, how did we do it, and what did that result in?   Let’s start with the numbers.

The people

-There are 112 Suzuki Elders in Canada (and in a few other countries).  85% live in the BC’s lower mainland.

-The Elder Council consists of 16 elected members, all living in the BC lower mainland region.  Approximately 24 other Elders in this region are actively involved in Elder work, i.e. they attend meetings, events, marches.  That total of 40 people makes up about 45% of the Suzuki Elder membership.

-We also know that while other Suzuki Elders members may not be as involved with events we generate, they are already  active in their own communities on issues such as water stewardship, reconciliation with First Nations, cycling, anti-fracking and fossil fuel development, nature walks, youth outdoor education, alternative energy, and adult education workshops. Suzuki Elders carry their environmental hearts on their sleeves wherever they are – churches, community centres, book groups, other NGO’s, political parties – and to whoever they may be speaking with, be they friends, politicians, grandchildren, neighbours or colleagues.

The meetings

-This year the Council (sixteen members) held ten meetings, the executive (five members) met ten times, and we hosted one Annual General Meeting.  Speakers presented at six of our Council meetings.

-The Education Working Group (thirteen members) held ten official meetings, and many smaller sub-group meetings.

-The Communications Working Group (five members) held three official meetings, and numerous check-in sessions.

-The Non Partisan Advocacy Working Group (six members) held three meetings and numerous ad hoc caucuses.

-The Membership Group (three members, plus all-Council input) held three meetings.

-The ad hoc Forum Planning Group (nine members) held ten meetings.

The projects and events, May 2016 to April 2017

-We continue to be guided by our annual strategic work plan, which we revisit, review and evaluate every year.

-We planned and facilitated one annual Summer Retreat (31 participants) on the theme of “Saying Yes and Saying it Well.”

-We planned and facilitated one Resilience Workshop (24 participants).

-We planned and facilitated one Food Security Workshop (25 participants).

-We discussed, researched, and wrote two non partisan advocacy letters (Site C, Coastal protection)

-We planned and supervised one membership phoning project (eight callers).

-We had one Christmas potluck social (we need more of these!).

-Two elders told our elder stories to 40 young people at Camp Suzuki in Howe Sound last summer.

-We worked hard over a ten month period to plan workshops and book speakers for what was to be our fourth major public forum this past March.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, we chose to cancel this event.  We learned the importance of having a “Plan B” for next time!

-We spoke to community groups (Chinese Elders, West Side Seniors, high school youth, community events).  Two of our Elders, Lillian Ireland and Rob Dramer, were spotted on the steps of the Alberta Legislature leading a group of anti-fracking protesters in song!

-We attended, as individuals, numerous rallies, marches, film nights, lectures, community gatherings, workshops and conferences.  We keep ourselves informed and we tell others what we learned.

Here are some observations about our Suzuki Elders learnings this past year:

  1. We were inspired by Jim Hoggan’s book “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot – The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up.” We discussed the book, we used its findings to inform and educate at our annual retreat, and the Education and Community Engagement Working Group used it to animate several months of discussion and exercises on “What do we say Yes to?”  We continue striving to change our own attitude and conversational tone by practicing the perspectives brought forward by Jim and the informants in his book.
  2. We learned that knowing what we say yes to is a complex process, more grey than black or white. Saying NO is easy, saying YES requires nuance, study, some thought, and dealing at times with cognitive dissonance! This act of changing the conversation is not only useful to us, it provides us with a way to model thinking and acting differently to others.
  3. We learned that the topic of (personal) resilience to the disruption (psychological and physical) of climate change resonates with us and many others. Elder work in this area began in 2012 thanks to DSF staff person Shannon Moore referencing an article which we shared amongst ourselves. (Suzanne C. Moser, PhD, Getting Real About It:  Meeting the Psychological and Social Demands of a World in Distress, Sage Reference Handbook of Environmental Leadership, 2012. In 2014 Don Marshall became a member of the Council and brought forward his own concern on the issue.  Don took the lead on this, encouraging us to study, read, and eventually co- organize three resilience workshops/events sponsored by the Elders.  Since then the issue of resilience has come onto the public radar screen and the Elders are pleased to be in the fray.
  4. We learned that it is worth our while to take the time to educate ourselves on issues and develop new analysis. This year we spent a fair bit of time doing that, and are even more ready to take those learnings and resulting educational models out to the public.
  5. We learned that aside from our Suzuki Elder volunteer work, we are busy people. We have partners, children, grandchildren and sometimes still our own parents – all of whom take up huge parts of our lives.  Some of us still work for pay!  Many of us volunteer for other organizations as well as providing leadership in our many communities of interest. We ‘try’ to have fun in our elder years, and that includes travel, recreation and hobbies. Two of our Suzuki Elders have recently published books!   We are also dealing with mundane matters such as new hips, knees, and just keeping ourselves healthy!  I am ever grateful for the commitment and time brought to the Suzuki Elder working groups, by all Council members, and many other members as well.  We work well together, and that is a blessing. You move forward, you make a difference.

Personally, being Chair of the Suzuki Elder council over the past four years has been a wonderful opportunity for me. This work is shared by an active Executive and supported by our Internal Advocate at the David Suzuki Foundation. Antonia Williams is our most recent advocate and she puts out great energy on our behalf. We also thank Jenn Rodriguez and Emily Keller who held this position over the past year.

We gain much from being able to call upon various DSF staff for information, access to research and ideas.  In particular, we appreciate how Steve Kux of the Science and Policy Unit so willingly shares analysis and findings whenever we call on him  Winnie Hwo makes a point of encouraging us to be involved in her diversity work, which is most useful to us.  Indeed, all DSF staff support our work and encourage our involvement in theirs; we enjoy those partnerships.  Over the past year seven DSF staff presented at our Council meetings – thank-you to Nadege Vince, Lindsay Coulter, Ian Hanington, Jay Ritchlin, Antonia Williams, Peter Robinson and Andrea Seale.  As well, this year, and for years to come, we are informed by the depthful study of DSF’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, “The Power of Place,” by Drs. Tara Cullis and Faisal Moola.  This study is proving useful to us as we continue seeking engagement with First Nations Elders.

In closing, I thank past Chair Conrad Guelke for his ongoing mentorship and graceful leadership – which opened doors for me within the Suzuki Elders. As Council Chair, I have also had the good fortune to meet monthly with DSF CEO Peter Robinson and I am grateful for his ever insightful counsel and support. Finally, I, and we, acknowledge the great hearts of David Suzuki and Tara Cullis, and their ongoing advocacy for the Suzuki Elders.

Respectfully submitted,

Diana Ellis

Executive Members:  Vice Chair – Neale Adams, Treasurer – Jim Park, Secretary – Margo Elfert, Past Chair- Conrad Guelke.