Category Archives: Meetings and Events

Report on Coast Salish Culture Day

by Peggy Olive

Mahan Hall on Salt Spring Island was standing room only for the Coast Salish Culture Day this past Sunday, February 21st. The large turnout, including dozens of captivated children, was a welcome surprise for organizer, Joe Akerman, and the local First Nations band members who attended and performed for each other and island residents. We were warmed by horsetail, nettle, and mint tea and by the energetic dancing and drumming of the Cowichan Tzinquaw dancers. Hul’qumi’num and Sencoten elders recounted stories and told of the changes that had occurred in their traditional territories and in their lifestyles in less than one generation. “We used to harvest clams and oysters, put up our tents on this island, and make clam patties. The land looked after us. We were a wealthy people.”

This memory of digging for clams in the 1940s brought forth an elder story about five clams sitting in the forest on a log. When a blue jay flew over, the clams told him that the other jays were saying that his feathers were dull. The blue jay went back to the other jays and complained to them. A bear came by the log, and the clams told him the other bears did not think much of him. That bear went back to the other bears and began to argue with them. Soon all the animals were arguing until they noticed that the clams were laughing and not fighting with each other. When they realized what had happened, the animals took all the clams to the beach and buried them in a deep hole in the sand so that when they spoke, their mouths would become filled with sand. When you hear clams bubble under the sand, they are talking about you.

We heard about reef net fishing, or sxwalu, a sustainable way of harvesting salmon that was once common practice among the Coastal Salish bands and which distinguished them as a people. In 1915, reef net fishing was outlawed in Canada. Now, for the first time in 100 years and with support of the Lummi nation in the San Juan Islands, reef nets were constructed and used at a traditional fishing site near Pender Island. Unfortunately, thanks to our warmer weather, the fish took a different route in 2015, away from the stationary reef nets. Nick Claxton who leads this effort, provided a model and description of the practice along with a full-scale reef net spread over the adjacent school playing field. An important distinction was made about this practice: “This is not about who we were but who we are.”reefnet

The day was rounded out with a salmon and bannock traditional lunch, a cedar weaving workshop, a talk on aboriginal resurgence, and music by Wesley Hardisty. We were promised a larger venue next year.

Elders, youth and the environment– we are in this together

by Diana Ellis

The Suzuki Elders are a voluntary group of self-identified elders working with, and through, the David Suzuki Foundation. At the core of the Suzuki Elders purpose statement is this: “We mentor, encourage and support other elders and the younger generations in dialogue and action on the environment.” For the past three years we’ve put considerable energy into making specific links with youth.

We’ve learned a few things along the way – about working with youth, and about our role as Suzuki Elders in engaging with them.

Our Elder experience in the HOW of working WITH youth

With” is the key word here.

First – we go to where youth are – Facebook, social media, their marches, conferences, workshops. We show up. That’s where we start to make the connections and linkages. And we follow up – be a friend on Facebook, read what they are doing and reporting, keep in touch. We look for one or two youth who really want to work with us and connect firmly with them. They always know others, and that’s how the team grows.

Youth tell us that, for many, the reason for getting involved in environmental and other social justice issues is first about getting connected with others, being in community with friends, being social. So we make sure our time together offers those opportunities.

We know that, developmentally, age 16 (Grade 10 in Canada) is typically the time when many young people start thinking more about the outside world, about social justice, about personal action. We connect with that age group and stay linked with them as they move through Grades 11 and 12, while consistently cultivating new contacts at the Grade 10 level.

When setting up discussion groups with youth and elders, we find small groups work best, i.e. small groups of 3-5. As nervy and brave as some youth are, there are many others still working to find their own voice and that is usually best found in a small group setting. We elders remember how powerful those moments of personal voice-finding are, so we build small group opportunities into workshops, conference and seminars.

We remember that younger people have different learning preferences and take that into account in our planning.

“I don’t want to go to workshops where someone stands up and talks for an hour, and then I have to go home and remember what was said. I want to talk, to interact, to have some hands on experience – to be able to go home with some tangible learning” (Youth workshop attendee).

More specifics

Timing is important. Youth are in school during the day and many of them work on the weekends. What works best for elder/youth meetings are those scheduled for late afternoon/after school or early evening meetings, or Sundays. We’ve done it all.

Food works! Snacks disappear! Share a light dinner for an after-school or early evening meeting. Plan a Saturday morning brainstorming session with juice, fruit, cheese.

Respect works! Youth emphatically ask us not to put down or make light of their use of social media. Social media is their way, they are very comfortable in that realm and it works. Further to that, Suzuki Elders ask for and accept youth’s help with social media, technology, websites etc. They know so much more than we do.

Support works! We support the environmental action that youth are already taking on. We tell them “we have your backs.” We elders do not, ever, wag our fingers and say youth should do their environmental activities differently, that what they are thinking is wrong-headed or not enough.

I think that environmentalism needs to be seen as necessary and enriching, not just a duty. Unless we think of it that way there’ll be just a small group of people working on it” (Youth retreat participant).

“I think there’s a stigma around the term environmentalism – I prefer the term sustainability” (Youth retreat participant).

Listening works! We’ve learned to listen first, listen second, listen third. Probe with care. Listen again.

What we’ve learned about our own role as elders working with youth

Suzuki Elders ask ourselves: “What is our reason for working with youth on any given project or initiative?” Does it fit with our purpose to motivate, encourage and support?

When working with youth we quell our own personal desires to be heard out there in the public world because in this case we aren’t looking for the podium for ourselves, we are reaching out to bridge the generational divide. If we are audacious enough to think we should speak on behalf of children and youth, we question what our motivation is in doing so. Is it because we can sometimes reach an audience they cannot? Is this useful? And does what we say reflect how youth feel?

We’ve learned that our work with youth is not about us, it is about them. What elders bring to the table is our story, and our ability to reflect on and describe what we call “the long view.”

We’ve learned that youth do want to hear our stories – about our lives and what we’ve done – and those “long view” reflections. We’ve learned that these stories are best shared in some activity and context. For example, when organizing a workshop together, we don’t say how something should be done, instead, we might tell an “I remember when…” story. Teachable moments are not always obvious, in fact, perhaps the best teachable moments are the ones we never realized were teachable. However, we’ve also learned our longer experience in planning and evaluation can be brought forward in the detail work…the “don’t forget about” list. We usually offer some assistance in making that list!

Importantly, as elders, we remember to be patient. Youth are busy and often preoccupied with other interests, not the least of which is their own schooling. They may not respond to our e-mails as quickly as needed. Sometimes consistent patient elder prompting is required.

Our Suzuki Elder work with youth is to mentor, support and encourage. We remind ourselves that as elders we are not their (school) teachers, we are not their parents, in most cases, we are not even their grandparents. We don’t teach, we don’t direct, we don’t chastise, we don’t even hold out expectations.

“I want a way to think about things, rather than what to think…” (Youth planning session participant).

We remind ourselves of the truism that no one can empower anyone else. People can only empower themselves. What we can do as elders is help create opportunities for youth to empower themselves.

What we’ve learned about youth from working with them

Youth are fearless in the way we were fearless when we were younger. It is powerful stuff.

“In terms of doing something (about the environment) I thought, “If not me, who else will do it?” (Youth roundtable discussant)

“By Grade 10 I was going to rallies, doing flash mobs. Then I began to realize how important politics is to change. I got involved in a youth action group and made a film on climate action.” (Youth retreat participant).

The youth we work with on environment and sustainability matters are bright and quick. They know a lot about this topic, and from angles that often differ from ours. Outside the box thinking! It is exciting to go there with them.

“I have always found the root of the problems of the world as the environment – I want people to see the inter-relationship of social justice and the environment” (Youth retreat participant.)

And, we are mindful of our different realities because of age.

“The future is mine … not yours…” (Youth retreat participant).

Dealing with hope, fear and despair

The youth we engage with on environment and sustainability always want to talk about hope – usually first. We find that closing any discussions, conferences, workshops and talks on a theme of practical hopefulness is more likely to lead to action, to personal commitment, as well as to gaining a sense of comfort and inclusion.PlayWithoutPlastic copy

Fears emerge further on, sometimes with gentle prompting. The times when youth confide their fears about the future to us are important – and moving – moments of discussion.

“I feel hopeful when I see lots of people marching in the street – makes me know there are others working on this and makes me feel less alone.” (Youth in small group discussion).

“I am actually scared about the future – scared we won’t have enough time to fix this…but when I attend events like this I get hopeful.” (Youth conference attendee)

“My fears are that the issues will disempower us” (Youth discussion group participant).

“I feel like we, the youth of today, have lots of worries already. Adding one other worry regarding the environment is an EXTRA – and youth don’t have the (personal) resources to deal with that extra worry” (Youth retreat participant).

Indeed, just like adults, some youth do not have the resources to deal with extra worries, or their resources are fragile. We know of young people depressed about the future – some even in despair. This concerns us deeply, and makes us review the way we, as Suzuki Elders, talk with youth about the environment, sustainability, the way ahead and adaptation.

We know reality must be acknowledged, that we cannot easily paint a rosy picture of the future. While we believe it is an elder’s responsibility to speak truth, we frame these discussions in a way that does not leave people, especially the young, without hope. One of our Suzuki Elders said recently, “It is not so much about what we say, but how well we listen (to youth).” Another noted that “by our own example, we show there is hopefulness in action.”

We elders know from our life experience in other movements – peace, anti-poverty, civil rights, women’s, anti-nuclear – that every effort counts, be it small or large, individual or collective. What we say to youth, and all, is simply this – that every day, we can each do everything we can, to move the environmental and sustainability agenda forward.

What youth and elders get from intergenerational environmental work together

For Youth: because Suzuki Elders ask youth for their perspective, working with us has provided them with an opportunity to practice, to test themselves, to show leadership, to get on the podium, to shine. Because we have worked with them, we are able, when asked, to provide letters of reference. Perhaps most importantly, youth know that we will listen and hear them….and that we have their backs.Picture 2

For Suzuki Elders: we are reminded of the richness and privilege of working with the younger generation. Our knowledge and skills are valued by them and this valuation is as important for we elders as it is for youth. The technical support youth share with us is needed and useful. Finally, and this is no small thing – from the commitment and curiousity of youth we elders receive infusions of hope and inspiration.



The emotional challenges of global climate change

Twenty-seven concerned elders gathered recently in a meeting room at the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia. The occasion was the Suzuki Elders’ first attempt at a Salon, defined as “a gathering where people talk in a way that is meant to be listened to and perhaps passionately acted upon”. Salons are incubators where ideas are conceived, gestated, and hatched. They can be frontiers of social and cultural change. The subject chosen for this first Salon was the emotional challenges posed by global climate change.

What is climate change? Life on Earth is possible only because of the warmth of the sun. While much of the incoming solar radiation is reflected back into space, a small portion of it is trapped by the thin layer of gases that make up our insulating atmosphere. One of these gases is carbon dioxide (CO2) which is released by activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and the cutting down of trees. Earth’s atmosphere today contains 42% more carbon dioxide than it did before the industrial era. In fact, we humans have released so much CO2 and other greenhouse gases that our planet’s atmosphere is now like a thick, heat-trapping blanket. Since 1900 the global average temperature has risen by 0.8o C and the northern hemisphere is substantially warmer than at any point during the past 1000 years. The year 2014 was the warmest year on meteorological record.

Why need we become emotional about the climate change process? The answer lies in the pages of the 2014 reports from the InterIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body set up to assess climate change. The IPCC summarize the present and anticipated environmental impacts in this schematic.IPCC 2014 global climate change

How are we to react to this portend of our Earth’s future? As Elders experienced in leadership and concerned about our environment, what are our challenges in the work for change? How do we help each other harness the inevitable emotions brought on by contemplating such changes and embark on a path of action to make a difference to the our future world?Meadows

The salon participants attempted to encapsulate their emotions through descriptive couplets describing their personal responses to the phrase “global climate change.”Noun-adjective pairs shadowed

Our dilemma is that we face difficult choices. We may decide that we will do nothing to change the present path the world is on, or reach the conclusion that whatever we do will be too little and too late or inadequate to do enough good. Alternatively we might choose to work as hard and as fast as we can to reduce impacts on our global support systems and do the very best we can to avert catastrophe. Any way we choose will result in massive changes for all earth’s creatures. Whichever way we proceed, everyone – leaders and others – will have their well-being and their ability to function effectively challenged. Leaders will need to be grounded in this realization and be prepared to guide others.

One of us (Don) described his path from early concerns about environmental damage, inspired by Rachael Carson, to his involvement with the Transition Town movement on Bowen Island, British Columbia. There he met with a small study group (Inner Transitions) that explored the place of grief as a part of being alive and as an outcome of knowing about the predicaments of the world.

Don introduced the concept of the importance of grief as a possible important part of SE’s work, but soon found that this perspective was too narrow. When he reframed his ideas it became clear that there were in fact many emotions that were involved. Activists and some leaders think about the world’s predicaments and realize what is happening. On the other hand, many people don’t seem to have any appreciation of the issues, they may be deniers or they simply don’t care.

Activists and leaders will experience emotions that help them in their work or alternatively they might have to grapple with emotions that hinder what they are doing or that affect their personal well-being. To help and work with persons in the community at large, we need to know whether their emotions help them see the need to participate or drive them away, possibly incapacitating them personally. We must also consider how emotions affect our youth. The task then becomes to:

  • collectively get clear about what emotions are and how they affect our work;
  • individually get in touch with the effects of our personal emotions;
  • work together in supporting each other in collective and individual exploration.

What to do with emotions
The Salon demonstrated significant interest in knowing about and exploring further the relationship between emotions, actions on climate change and elder leadership. There are several directions that we can engage in from here:

  • Investigate at a theoretical level, perhaps with experienced help, what emotions are and how they can affect behavior.
  • Relate how the use of an awareness of emotions can influence how the Suzuki Elders work with climate change. How is our own leadership affected by emotions?
  • Begin working at our individual emotional exploration, particularly about grief.
  • Establish a grief support group, as in Transition Town’s Heart and Soul groups, perhaps in collaboration with Village Vancouver.
  • Consider the possibility of carrying our understanding of the effect of emotions throughout the SE community, and to the wider community.

 Posted by Don Marshall and Stan Hirst


Windermere Secondary School hosts annual Climate Change Conference

In the late sixties, Windermere Secondary School was a tough East Vancouver high school. I am proud to say that I survived! In recent years the School has become a leader in student environmental awareness and action.

For the 2014 Climate Change Conference (‘CCC’) held in November the chosen theme was fracking. I couldn’t attend all the workshops, so I chose three that interested me:

#1 – Corporate Media, Propaganda and Climate Change, presented by Derrick O’Keefe;

#2 – Economics of Fracking, presented by Marc Lee; and

#3 – (Teachers Only): Climate Justice Is Social Justice: Resources For Schools and the Classroom presented by Ryan Cho.

BottomGraphicEach workshop was hosted by knowledgeable facilitators who expertly balanced facts, stories and visual aids in their presentations. My only complaint is that the one-hour workshops were too short. By the time the presentations were over, time had run out and there was no opportunity for attendee participation or a question and answer period. However, the afternoon session on Climate Justice was two hours long, so there was time for a few interesting participant exercises.

The day began and closed with some noted keynote speakers – Sean Devlin, Aliya Dossa, Caleb Behn, and Professor Lynne Quarmby.

Sean Devlin may be recognized as one of two environmental activists who managed to get on stage beside the Prime Minister at a business conference during the latter’s visit to Vancouver in January 2014. Sean carried a simple sign “Climate Justice Now” and, needless to say, was quickly and roughly removed and arrested, but never charged. Aliya co-founded the movement “Youth 4 Tap” which focuses on the reduction of bottled water in plastic containers and the promotion of tap water. She believes a positive mindset can help achieve one’s dreams while living sustainably. Caleb is from the Treaty 8 First Nation Territory in northeastern BC and recently graduated from the University of Victoria with a law degree. He is among the first UVic Law students to be granted the Concentration in Environmental Law and Sustainability. His story can be found in the documentary film Fractured Land. Lynne is a molecular biology professor at Simon Fraser University, and was one of those arrested at the anti-Kinder Morgan protests on Burnaby Mountain in November.

The conference was well attended by students and faculty from many Metro Vancouver high schools and, despite some technical glitches, was managed effectively by the Windermere C3 (Climate Change Conference) Committee. I was impressed by the green initiatives taken by the school (at the urging of its students) – the hall water fountains allow for traditional direct drinking from a vertical water flow as well as providing an arcing stream to fill reusable water bottles; conference participants brought their own silverware and food containers which were filled by a delectable variety of foods in the school cafeteria; waste separation and recycling containers were available everywhere.

It was intensely gratifying and inspiring to see so many young people involved in developing sustainable behaviours at school, at home, and in the community at large. They are creative and knowledgeable with the practical know-how to implement these positive changes in their lives and environment. I enjoyed reconnecting with teachers and students I met at last year’s conference, and made some new friends this year.

Well done, Windermere!

Posted by Jim Park

Oil, the Environment, and the Future of Canada: A Meeting Report

by Peggy Olive

SSILast fall I moved from Vancouver to Salt Spring Island. From our house at the south end of the island, I can see the distant high-rises of the towns south of Vancouver, yet I’m living in another world now. Deer pass through the front yard, eagles and ravens circle, and the silence is wonderful. After four years volunteering with the Suzuki Elders in various capacities, I knew I would miss my Suzuki Elder friends who had shared my deep concerns for the direction we are heading and the problems that lie in store for us. But Salt Spring islanders are environmentally savvy and open to new ideas, and I soon joined the Salt Spring Forum, a speaker’s series that has hosted world-renowned environmentalists including David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, and George Monbiot.

Last weekend (March 8-9, 2014), Dr. Michael Byers, a UBC political science professor and organizer of the Forum, brought ten graduate students from his seminar course to present their papers at a conference entitled “Oil, the Environment, and the Future of Canada.” This is the second year he has done so, and he plans to make this a yearly event.

Mainlanders and Salt Spring Islanders, including interested high school students and Forum members, made up the audience of about 75, and half of the time was dedicated to questions and discussion. The high quality of the presentations and enthusiastic discussions left the audience feeling uplifted by the talent, insights, and passion of these young people.

As the Conference title suggests, topics were wide-ranging and included:

  • a discussion of the problems in navigating arctic waters (don’t count on any oil spills being cleaned up, and the northwest passage may yet end up being designated “international waters”),
  • whether Canada has a national energy policy (yes, but it’s not called that, and it’s more of a plan to sell off our oil and gas as quickly as possible with little regard to environmental consequences),
  • whether there is a national security risk associated with allowing foreign acquisitions of Canadian natural resources (yes, current actions could compromise Canada’s legislative and judicial sovereignty). This problem was illustrated with regard to the FIPA trade agreement with China: Chinese investors would be able to sue the Canadian government if they feel the investor’s profit is being compromised, and minority ownership is sufficient for this purpose. Also, under FIPA, investors are subject to Canadian laws, but only those in place at the time of agreement. At the moment, Canada has no legal framework for assessing the risk of a security threat by resource acquisition.
  • whether there is a public relations problem with respect to the oil sands (yes: the government has the resources to mount an ad campaign that is largely divorced from science and meant to sell the political position that the oil sands industries provide jobs and economic benefits). The position of environmental groups is more legitimate, being rooted in scientific fact. However, getting the message out to the uninformed public is difficult. Social media were considered important in this regard.
  •  What decisions are carrying Canada towards being a petro state, and is oil wealth compatible with democracy? The radicalization of environmentalists (those with opposing opinions) and the disregard for environmental contamination (inadequate monitoring) were given as evidence of a problem. Energy represents less than 6% of Canada’s GDP questioning whether energy should be taking centre stage. Norway was compared as another “western” petro state, but unlike Canada, Norway demands much higher royalties, has state-owned oil companies (70% of the Alberta oil sands is foreign-owned), has proportional representation, and has more consultation with their indigenous people.
  • How to say no to big oil? Indigenous rights, with respect to obtaining free, prior, informed consent, were argued to best support environmental activists and the public in defeating pipeline proposals (using the example of the defeat of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the 70’s). Civil disobedience may need to be employed.

[Originally posted on March 17, 2014]

An elder walk on Kitsilano Beach

by Jim Park

On July 30, under the warm summer sun, a group of concerned elders met in Volunteer Park on Point Grey Road in Kitsilano, Vancouver, to walk the beach where a proposed seawall extension is to be located. Led by Suzuki Elder David Cook, a geologist and naturalist, and assisted by Sheila Byers, a marine biologist, the walk spanned the area between the Vancouver and Jericho Yacht Clubs. With the two scientists were six Suzuki Elders, Mel Lehan from the Point Grey Foreshore Society, and two Vancouver Parks Board Commissioners, John Coupar and Trevor Loke. The walk was planned to show the participants the diverse intrinsic value of this beach area and to examine the features worthy of being preserved in their natural state.

David presented the geological history of this part of Kitsilano Beach and its unique characteristics, including coal veins, two basalt channels bounded on both sides by sandstone, a fossil repository, and other fascinating earth lore. Sheila discussed the rich and complex intertidal web of life found here, and emphasized the fragility of the beach ecosystems. There were many opportunities for hands-on experiencing of the topics being discussed by David and Sheila. Each handful of sea water that Sheila cupped in her hands contained a myriad of tiny life forms. It seemed so miraculous, I felt like a kid again. When David led us to a fossil repository and showed us a beautiful plant fossil that he had found there, I became the ten-year-old amateur paleontologist of my youth and started scouring the ground looking for T. rex bones. I didn’t find any bones but I did find a wonderfully detailed leaf fossil. In some ways, I think we all became children again as we slowly explored the seashore. Everyone was excitedly talking to each other, broad smiles of delight framing eyes bright with the joy of new discoveries and realizations. This is what a spiritual connection with nature does.

There will always be a need for more housing and more recreational areas for the public to access, but these needs are, in my opinion, greatly outweighed by the absolute necessity to keep some places free of human influence, left wild in their natural state to heal, grow and evolve. This area of Kitsilano Beach is one such place. As Elder Diana Ellis noted, it has a rich history of occupation by the indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years, as well as by many other settlers from all over the world who chose to make it their home in more recent times. In our time, it has been allowed to be itself, to slowly erase all signs of human occupation and to return to its natural state. These areas are becoming increasingly rare within urban environments.

It is hoped that, as a group, we conveyed our strong feelings to the two city commissioners who kindly made the time to join us, and that they will convey our wishes to the Vancouver City Council. If they felt any of the magic that we felt down on the beach, then I’m confident that they will recommend against building a seawall along that portion of Kitsilano Beach.

Thank-you to David Cook and Mel Lehan for organizing two walks that were deftly merged into one, and to each participant who added to the knowledge pool of this area. It was fun!

Left to right: David Cook; Sheila Byers; Jim Park; Diana Ellis; Cynthia Lam.