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Gwaii Haanas Report: Youth stewards visit Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a / Windy Bay

My favourite day was focused on the new and upcoming Windy Bay Trail
The Haida Gwaii Youth Stewards gather by a culturally modified tree at Hlk’yah GawGa/Windy Bay. (Submitted)

By Shyanna Sawyer

Halfway through my summer working with Gwaii Haanas as an external relations student I was asked to go on a four-day field shift to Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a/Windy Bay with the Haida Gwaii Youth Stewardship program (HGYSP). I was more than excited when I got the news. I imagined swimming, hiking, and expanding my knowledge about invasive plants. But what I was not expecting was that I would be embarking on my greatest Gwaii Haanas field shift with two of the funniest women I’ve gotten the chance to know, one of my greatest friends, and a group of some of the wittiest and fun-loving kids I have ever encountered.

The HGYSP is an islands-wide initiative created to provide opportunities for both post-secondary and secondary school students to engage in natural resource stewardship projects, learn leadership skills, and earn income from meaningful summer employment. The program is jointly offered each year by the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Each year the program hires about 10 students, usually five from the north end of Haida Gwaii and five from the south. This year’s participants include Kaiya Dyment, Dominic Williams, Olivia Wilson, Noah Munt, Megan Ives, Chantal Davis, Kiya Bergstrom, Michael West, and Connar Edgars.

Day one was all travel. For the Gwaii Haanas team embarking on the trip this meant arriving at Huxley camp, and getting settled. For the youth stewardship group this meant getting to Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a, familiarizing themselves with their surroundings, and setting up camp in the “Looking Around and Blinking House.”

Day two, my favourite day, was focused on the new and upcoming Windy Bay Trail, and invasive plant pulling. After a few pieces of fried bread made by Haida Gwaii Watchmen Mary Russ, the 15 of us headed along the dry mossy ground for the lightly marked trail to pull away brush and clear the path. Along the way we found some fascinating fungi, saw a Sitka black-tailed deer, and learned the importance of culturally modified trees. A few hours later we split into two teams and scoured the beach in search of three invasive species: Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), and Foxglove (Digitalis). A highlight of the trip for me was seeing the impact that 15 people could do in one hour. Across the beach of Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a we pulled 2002 invasive plants, an amazing feat for such a small team.

Day three, our last work day, felt extremely short. We spent the first part of the morning sitting on the beach, basking in the sun, and hearing ideas for a new HGYSP logo. Most of the students had a lot to say and share, and when it came to the drawing portion of the brainstorm they were creating like mad. The second half of the morning was spent listening to Mary tell us the story of the Legacy Pole in her own way. Handing out each of the descriptions of the figures depicted on the pole and asking the guests to read them aloud.

After a pizza lunch made by Mary we went to the cultural plant enclosure and listened to Dr. Jean-Louis Martin, research Director at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, talk about the importance of understory to a forest and the kinds of damages deer do to that understory. After that, we had the opportunity to see some of the plants that had a chance to grow in the deer-free environment. We found a single delight (Moneses uniflora), and the Listera caurina, commonly known as Northwestern Twayblade. This day ended with a bittersweet goodbye to both the HGYSG group and the Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a Watchmen.

Day four was about heading home. As we began our two-hour long boat ride I could not stop thinking about how great this trip was and how truly blessed I was to be a part of it.