Salish Sea Emerging Stewards celebration

An inspiring night to celebrate youth leaders.

Kloey and her mom, Vernadean, from Cowichan Secondary, SD79, in Duncan.

Kloey and her mom, Vernadean, from Cowichan Secondary, SD79, in Duncan.

We recently closed our third season of Raincoast’s Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program with a new addition to the program – an event to connect, reflect and celebrate our precious coastline. People of all ages and backgrounds joined in the festivities as graduates of the 2018 season had the opportunity to take the stage and share their experiences and perspectives from the program.

The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea provided the perfect backdrop to the event as we were surrounded by local coastal species, including the giant pacific octopus, jellyfish and eelgrass meadows. Our coastal theme continued with Nature’s Chef, Tom Kral catering providing a wild, organic and very coastal menu with items that included fried kelp fronds, sea asparagus, and wild salmon.

We were welcomed by Carl Olsen from the Tsartlip Nation, who inspired the crowd and shared his stories of raising his children on the coast to understand and respect nature and the important role youth have in leadership and decision-making.

Next we began ‘Opening the Doors’, a session to introduce students to the art of networking and help them develop an essential life-long skill. Youth joined together with local professionals from Raincoast, WWF, Peninsula Streams Society, Sea Change, Ocean Networks Canada and Parks Canada – individuals working to study, restore, and protect our coastal environment. After several lively examples and tips of what networking might look like, the youth were set off to make as many new connections as they could. To help entice them, a series of prizes were up for grabs including swag gifted from Helly Hansen, MEC, Sitka Clothing, and Arc’teryx.

The evening’s highlight occurred as a panel of young leaders reflected on their learning, how the program impacted them, and their experiences of teaching their local communities about conservation topics that resonated with them. Youth shared inspiring stories and highlights that included seeing the magic of bioluminescence, witnessing a humpback whale breach, and realizing the true biodiversity that existed in their backyards. Some youth started community initiatives following the program, such as a bake sale to raise funds for Raincoast’s purchase of the Nadeea commercial hunting tenure, and others shared creative expression pieces like artwork and photography inspired by their participation in the program. We closed the evening by announcing our first ever Junior Leader positions offered to two of the youth, who will join in next year’s season on our research vessel, Achiever, to help inspire the next round of students.

Hearing the excitement of the youth about what they experienced in nature and their obvious passion about conservation and stewardship left everyone freshly inspired. These special moments in nature that were once a big part of everyday life are slowly becoming rare. To ensure our future generations continue to experience these connections with nature, it’s essential that we provide these opportunities.

There is a wealth of talent and motivation in these young leaders and this night provided an opportunity to praise and support their achievements. I believe those who are supported will be more inspired to continue to excel.

This program has become so much more than simply an education program. It has become a program of self-awareness, leadership, developing life skills, and establishing relationships both with the environment, but also with the people around them. I find myself constantly learning right alongside the youth as our local First Nations partners provided deeper understanding to our connections to place, traditional practices, and the respect with the environment and wildlife that has sustained these systems for millennia. Part of the magic of traditional learning is hearing the stories directly from elders and seeing students experiencing traditional practices, hands-on, rather than learning from a book.

I am excited for the future direction of the program and look forward to seeing what next season will bring. I’m also deeply grateful to all the participants, our community partners and all of the supporters of the program and everyone who made the event possible.

For the next generation of Salish Sea stewards.

Maureen Vo Maureen Vo stands on the bow of a small sailing vessel in the coastal waters of British Columbia.

Maureen Vo is a Raincoast Education and Development Coordinator. She joined the Raincoast team in 2016 to help pilot the Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program. Maureen holds an interdisciplinary Master’s in marine biology and computer engineering. You can find her rock climbing, snowboarding, and sailing.

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