Sustainable Living Fair shows hope for the future By Heather Ramsay

  • Oct. 21, 2009 10:00 a.m.

Seeing all the engaged young people participating in the Sustainable Living Fair was one of many highlights for organizers of the weekend’s successful event. A youth film team covered every moment of the proceedings and several young artists recorded people’s ideas in a graphic way on mural paper, says organizer Stephanie Fung. “It made me hopeful for the future that they care and want to be engaged,” she said. The amount of participation in general blew her away. “People came and gave their all,” she said. The fair was the vision of Jacques Morin, a Queen Charlotte resident who has been involved for years with the local Sierra Club, the Hecate Energy Institute and renewable energy. Mr. Morin was also impressed with the amount of sustainable living resources already available to islanders. “We often seek people from the outside to bring information here, but we found all the people we needed here to provide a successful learning experience,” he said. Workshops by locals on composting, jam making, bicycle repair and more were well attended and groups like the Islands Food Groups and the local foods processing group were also excellent sources of knowledge. As for the speakers, Ms Fung was moved by their power, especially Guujaaw and Diane Brown who both spoke on the opening night, Oct. 16. Guujaaw said the Haida also have stories of using too much of a resource and then having to go without. “We are not perfect people,” he said. His people have worked in the forests too and like all loggers of a certain generation, they can tell stories of taking gravel out of the bottom of rivers with salmon eggs mixed in and tossing it onto the roads. But around the time when they were told they needed hunting and fishing licenses, people started saying, that’s enough. Guujaaw fondly remembered protests involving Haida setting off cherry bombs in the waters and dispersing fish destined for seiners nets. After years of dealing with deceit and trickery, the provincial government realized they had to change when the loggers started to stand with us, he said. “The changes came not because they were right, but because people stood up and demanded those changes,” he said. Now he’s involved in a collaborative process with the Ministry of Forests, the details of which were explained by district manager Len Munt. Mr. Munt has worked here for six years and said, for him, Islands Spirit Rising was an important catalyst. “It was a time of listening,” he said. He would come to the line every morning to ask if he could go to work. At first when he was told “no” he would leave and after a while he stayed for the cinnamon buns. Since then his team has changed the name of the district to the Haida Gwaii Forest District, worked to get youth involved in forestry, and come up with collaborative ways to work with the Haida. Diane Brown talked about the first sustainable living fair on the islands. It took place long ago when seven Haida ancestors agreed to meet at the highest point of land on the islands and figure out how to live together. Although there is no word for “sustainable” in the Haida language, Ms Brown said Haidas were always taught never to take more than they can use. Saturday’s keynote speaker Severn Cullis-Suzuki said that after years of trying to influence world leaders- witness her speech at the Earth Summit in Rio at age 12 – she has realized working at the local level is far more important. “Real change can only come from us,” she said. “And people around the world are realizing this.” For example, 1000 United States mayors have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol even if their president will not, representing 86 million people. She said that after travelling around the world chasing sustainability, she’s realized “the most important thing we can do for the earth is stay put.” After a successful weekend event, the biggest challenge ahead says Ms Fung is to harness all this momentum and have islanders move forward to make change. “How to turn these ideas into action is the question,” she says.