Real Learning…Quest U travels to Gitga’at spring harvesting camp

The past two Septembers I have taken Quest University to Hartley Bay and into the Greatbear Rainforest for their ecology class. Led by instructor Nobi Suzuki, the ecology class focused on the incredible wildlife at that time of the year, the wild salmon runs, Humpback Whales and of course the search for the rare Spirit Bear. When you are in the Great Bear Rainforest you cannot separate the environment and the people and many of the students were captivated by culture of the Gitga’at people. My adopted community of Hartley Bay is an incredibly giving community and these unique classes experienced much more than what was written in a course description. Nobi approached me about coming up for a Culture and Tradition Class and I could not think of a better time than the month of May. At this time the coast comes alive and the Gitga’at people make their way down to their ancient fishing village, Kiel, to harvest some of their traditional foods like halibut and seaweed. So i met the group in Prince Rupert on the 16th for a 10 day sojourn down to Hartley Bay.
Feast in Cultural Center in Hartley Bay- Jen Dickie photo
Our first few days were spent in the community talking with elders, understanding the language, sharing stories and participating in community feasts. The highlight was our trip with Cam Hill up to the Gitga’ats traditional village site in the Qual River Valley. Cam showed us the petroglyph site which holds over 200 hundred carved rocks. I spent one evening here on my SU4GB trip with Myron, Alex and Mick. Cam also took us to Old Town, their fall camp where they hunt moose and harvest chum and pink salmon. He also talked about man made island, an ingenious island built in the middle of a powerful river that at one point held 14 longhouses. Old stories surround this island as and area of ambush for warring tribes. The energy in this valley is palpable. Huge thanks to Cam for bringing us up there.
Petroglyph Site in the Qual River Valley- Brian Huntington Photo
I then had to travel down the coast to Heiltsuk territory for the launch of the Bella Bella Standup Paddleboard project, but that deserves a blog on it’s own.
After I returned from Bella Bella I met the class at the cabin in Cameron Cove which was to be our home for the next four nights. Cameron Cove and the river that pours into it is an area I have spent countless days and weeks in guiding people for King Pacific Lodge and on various expeditions. Most recently this is base camp for our Mountain Surf Adventures Greatbear SUP Expeditions. After getting settled in we visited friends, Hermann and Janey at Cetacea Lab on Gil Island where they talked to us about their research and study of Humpbacks, Fin and Killer Whales. Fascinating work by passionate and committed people dedicated to protecting this area as a whale sactuary.
Cameron Cove Hike to the Sitka Towers- Jenn Dickie Photo
The highlight of our whole trip awaited us the following two days as we became integrated into the camp life at Kiel. Kiel is a traditional fishing village of the Gitga’at people where during the month of May the elders and communities members travel south with the birth of spring to harvest halibut, seaweed, spring salmon and chitons. They have used these fishing villages and areas of harvest for centuries. Harvesting foods make them who they are, you cannot separate the people from the environment.
Hartley Bay’s traditional spring harvesting camp, Kiel
In all of my years in Hartley Bay I had never been down to Kiel at this time of the year to harvest with the people. The experience was priceless as was the food we harvested and ate. I was blown away by the generosity of the families who each had their own cabin and areas for drying seaweed and halibut.
Ian Eaton harvesting Halibut
It’s the elder women that “cut fish.” Betty Lou Dundas
Seaweed drying, pounding of “wooks” with yew wood mallet. It’s a team effort. Invaluable learning for Brayden Reece by his grandmother Jen
The students picked seaweed alongside the community for two days, filling sacks with the ocean’s gold. Groups of students were invited by fisherman on small boats to go out to hand pull halibut lines. In front of our eyes we watched the people harvest and process food from sun up to sun down. Everyone had a role and we seemed to blend well. It was an honor for us to be there. I was really proud of the Quest students as they not only helped harvest but spent precious hours with the young children at the camp playing old games, swimming, and just having fun. The youth will never forget conscious time spent with them, just like they never forgot the last Quest class that came up last September and taught them how to slack line. We were also fortunate to be at the camp at the same time as Nancy Turner who had brought a class up as well. Nancy is a world leading ethnobotanist and author and has spent countless hours working with many First Nations documenting their stories and traditional plant use. Coincidentally the Quest Students were reading her Earth’s Blanket book and she took the time to sit down with the class to discuss here work.
Derek Reece waiting for a boat pick up after picking seaweed off the rocks
On a personal note I was brought to a new level, and uplifted by immense feelings of inspiration and gratitude and another layer of love for our incredible coast and the people that live in harmony with it. Thanks to Jen Dickie for coming up to Hartley Bay to provide sea kayak training for the youth and for looking after Quest and sharing your knowledge while I was down in Bella Bella. Thanks go out to Belle, Tony and Ian Eaton, Danny and Mona Danes, Archie Dundas Jr and Nicole, Betty Lou Dundas, Jimmy, Annetta and the Robinson Family, Jen, Elliot and Derek Reece, and Alex Clifton for looking sharing your culture with us. Thanks to Marven for guiding us in Cameron Cove and for transportation. Thanks to Mick for helping with transportation as well. Big thanks to Mike Reid for his support throughout the week. A special thanks go to Cam, Eva, Brother Max, Sister’s Ray and Morgan, Lynne and Ernie Hill for housing us, transporting us, teaching us and looking after us. You are my family and I am always proud to have people meet you as I feel that everyone who does are better for it. Granny, thanks for being such a great leader, we missed you in Kiel but we hope you like the seaweed we picked for you. And finally to the community for opening your arms to our class. As I write this we are on the ferry to Prince Rupert with a group of uplifted students ready to reflect and share their experiences from a powerful 10 days on the coast.
Evening reflections in Cameron Cove- Jenn Dickie photo
Quest U and the kids, slacklining. Lindsay Eastwood photo


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