As the Achiever slowly pulled up to Koeye camp after a long 11-hour journey on the water, I could feel my eagerness building for the exciting week to come. Every summer, Raincoast joins and supports the Qqs Project Society with Koeye camp, an innovative Heiltsuk youth, science and cultural camp program that takes place in the Koeye River valley. This year was a particularly special year as it marked the 20-year anniversary of the camp. This was my first year joining Koeye camp, and I was looking forward to learning all about it. As we disembarked and explored the area, I couldn’t get over how breathtaking the surroundings were and what an inspiring setting it was for campers to engage with their culture and environment.
The Koeye River is located 30 nautical miles south of Bella Bella and accessible only by boat. This ideal location of lush temperate rainforest, sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, and teeming wildlife has been shaped by millenia of careful stewardship. As I watched a young grizzly bear resting on the rocky shoreline below us in front of the setting sun, I knew this was no ordinary summer camp.
The campers are mostly Heiltsuk youth from Bella Bella with others joining from neighbouring communities. The camp integrates cultural and scientific learning into a fun, challenging, and comprehensive education program.
Throughout the week, campers engaged in cultural learning including Heiltsuk language, practices, stories, and dance. Raincoast supports the camp by engaging in science-based activities and discussing some research being conducted in the area. Raincoast scientists engage the campers with games and activities both on the land and using the Achiever on the water to help reinforce themes.
Everything from that week was building up to the last day of camp and the big 20 year anniversary celebration in the Big House. The campers had been working hard all week to practice the cultural program that they would be hosting on Friday. Community members from Bella Bella and surrounding areas came down, filling up the Big House with nearly 300 people. The powerful program overwhelmed me with so much emotion and appreciation. The event was extremely powerful, with many tears being shed.
Koeye camp and the concept of consilience – the blending of knowledge and different ways of knowing is what inspired Raincoast to launch the Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program. I am excited to be a part of developing the future of this great initiative and I will take the lessons learned from Koeye to create a meaningful program that will inspire the next generation of conservation leaders.