Alert Bay, BC
Not a bad place to blog from eh? This is the kitchen counter I am sitting at in a wonderful house in Alert Bay overlooking the bay itself and looking up the channel towards Port McNeil. I am staying at a place called “Above the Bay,” owned by a lovely couple, Dave and Maureen who also have a spot right down on the water called “On the Beach.” This is going to turn into a shameless plug for their place, because the sun just set behind the Vancouver Island mountains and the beauty is astonishing and its not like Dave and Maureen had anything to with that, except the genius of the picture window in front of me is that they invite the whole bay to a part of the house. This place is great…two bedrooms, woodstoves, a nice open kitchen and a great deck which must rock in the summer with a big fat salmon on the barbeque after a day of whale watching. This is not the typical view in January, but if you are ever up here, this is the place to stay. And free wireless.
I left this morning on the 8:45 ferry from Port McNeil bound for the Namgis First Nation on Cormorant Island. The trip is 45 minutes down towards the mouth of the Broughton Archipelago, a massive tangle of islands that stretches from here down to Campbell River between Vancouver Island and mainland. I’m here to work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as they talk with First Nations from this area. On the ferry ride across I had a deep sense of the pattern of this place as I watched the cormorants and grebes, auks, seals and ducks scurry around beside the ferry. The pattern of here is that there are two worlds: the world of the surface where everything comes to rest, and the world of the deep where everyone goes to get nourished. Alert Bay and Namgis share Cormorant Island, and cormorants are birds that fly both above and below water.
People here rely on the ocean for their natural food. Several times today in the meeting, Namgis leaders and Elders talked about the ocean as their garden. There is a famous saying from this part of the world – when the tide is out the table is set. Clam beds, seaweed, salmon, and other creatures and plants formed the staple diet of these people and that natural diet is important today as diabetes and other nutrition related diseases ripple through First Nations. The pattern is calm at the surface, nourishment in the depths.
And so we had a good meeting today, beginning with that acknowledgement and extending into hearing what people were saying at their depths, what pain lay behind the calm exteriors. To have access to a traditional food source at your doorstep restricted by the effects of fish farms, government policy and commercial priorities is devastating, and these people, significant cultural and political forces here on the north Island, are tired of it. Hearing that opens things up though and we had some good conversations about collaboration despite it all. We ate clam chowder and salmon salad sandwiches, the local natural foods of this place and we looked into that private voice of possiblilty that lay behind the cynicism, but that nourishes hope.
So I’m definitely ensconced in here for the night, enjoying some quiet time, a pot of tea, some leftover salmon sandwiches and watching Venus grow brighter above the mountain in the darkening western sky. Travelling is sometimes weary, but this is one of those days when I count myself a lucky guy to get to do what I do.