The Koeye Exchange

koeye_bighouse

This past week, a subset of the Raincoast crew made our annual migration to the remote Koeye River (pronounced Kway) on BC’s central coast.  Bringing our research vessel Achiever, we participate in the Koeye youth camp hosted by the Heiltsuk Nation’s Qqs Projects Society (pronounced Cuks).

Often loaded to brim with microscopes, sampling equipment and field technicians, these vestiges of the ship’s employment in conservation research were replaced with coloured construction paper, oil spill demonstration gear and other kid-friendly education items.  We spent the week volunteering as resource staff, facilitating ecology and conservation-based games and leading discussions with campers. In addition to our science-based perspective, children are also immersed with cultural heritage and knowledge from their Heiltsuk councilors and elders. Koeye camp is a full-on science and culture program and the kids (and staff) love it.

Top photo (left):  A paddle up the river can bring much fun and even wildlife when staff and campers stay quiet!

Bottom photo (left): After photographing humpback whales on Achiever, campers try to match tail fluke markings with those in the Pacific Coast humpback whale data base.

A prominent theme during this week’s camp was linking the children’s first-hand knowledge of their territory to the potential impacts of tanker traffic and oil spills if the Northern Gateway project were to be approved. Each day, rotating groups of campers joined Achiever for mock surveys of marine mammals and seabirds in Fitz Hugh Sound.  We examined what whales were eating, listened on hydrophones to underwater sounds (both natural and man-made), and generally spent exciting days with feeding, sleeping and travelling whales.

Back on shore, we played ecological games, discussed the connectedness of land and sea, and paddled up the river to explore the estuary.  On the beach, we set up oil spill demonstrations, and though there was much laughter while trying to contain spills and re-fluff fake, oil-soaked feathers and fur exposed to ‘crude’  (aka canola darkened with cocoa), campers and staff reflected on the massive challenges that could face this generation if coastal oil tankers were ever approved.

Spending time at camp is like spending time with family – a reason we always want to return. The curiosity, enthusiasm and explorations made our time with campers great fun. Being at Koeye has left us recharged for our own work and excited; as year after year, we watch future leaders of the territory, grow, learn and discover.

The week comes to an end with Feast night in the bighouse. We proudly watch the campers who we had laughed and played with all week take their roles in the feast dances so seriously. They dance and sing with such a prominent pride for their culture.  We close our time by sharing food.  We left the bay on the last night to the sound of drums from the bighouse, a warm sunset lighting up the bighouse, and two humpback whales off the bow of Achiever.  We are already counting the days until next year with our Koeye family.

Christina, Megan, Brian and Misty (sadly missing Kyle and “wolf man” Chris D. from this year’s Raincoast camp staff roster)