Islands could make a perfect classroom, says new society

  • Dec. 1, 2008 2:00 p.m.

Education could become a new growth industry on the islands. That’s the goal of the Haida Gwaii Society of Higher Education anyway. The society, which got going last February, hopes not only to bring university level courses to the islands, but to bring students too. Keith Moore, one of the founding board members, says he’s seen university programs take groups of art students to Florence or anthropology students to the South Pacific. He and others involved in forestry have often thought Haida Gwaii would make a perfect outdoor classroom for students of natural resource management too. “This is a rich forest, it’s a culturally rich community and there are issues in the ‘real’ world that play out here as well,” he says. Not only is there a great forest lab, where students can study the soil or collect bugs, but giving students from big universities the chance to interact in a small community that’s been engaged in resource issues and conflict is invaluable, he says. The big vision, he says, is to hold semester-long programs on the islands, making use of the accommodations and other facilities here that experience a slow down during the January to April season. The students and faculty would be eating in restaurants, buying groceries, renting vehicles, staying in accommodations and renting class space for a four-month period. Mr. Moore also anticipates community knowledge holders will be called on as guest lecturers or mentors and that students could do work experience programs here too. “This is a great place to learn, live and work,” says Mr. Moore. It’s an enriching experience for students and it’s a perfect opportunity for Haida Gwaii, “at a time when the community wants to find new ways to generate revenue from the forest,” he says. “There is nothing better for a community than bringing in healthy, young enquiring students,” he says. Many students who have come here in the past, stay on, he says. To start things off, the society is doing a pilot project in 2009. Simon Fraser University will bring 20 graduate students from the School of Natural Resource and Environmental Management to Haida Gwaii for three weeks this spring. Mr. Moore says it will be a good opportunity to see how the logistics, including access to computers and video conferencing, for such a program will work. But in 2010, the group intends to have a program worked out that will see nine universities across the country partnering to provide students and faculty for a full semester’s of forest resource management curriculum. Mr. Moore says Bamfield on Vancouver Island has offered something similar in marine biology, but the difference is that the marine centre there is a self-contained campus. “We want to see more engagement with the community,” he says. Other board members are Haida Gwaii Forest district manager Len Munt, QC Mayor Carol Kulesha, Community Futures’ Art Lew, Gwaii Forest’s John Farrell, Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Gwaii Haanas’s Ernie Gladstone. Mayor Kulesha says that Queen Charlotte council “has been extremely enthusiastic about promoting education on the islands in all of its forms, as well as new ways to use forest resources.” To that end, the council passed on $7,500 in proposal writing funds (from the Northern Development Initiative Trust) to the project and added another $2,500 of council money too. Councillor Kris Olsen is keen to see it work. “Higher education is a huge opportunity and it’s one with future growth,” he said. “Instead of giving our resources away, we can be giving away our knowledge, which makes sense.”