Notes from the Field: My first experiences with Raincoast

Kaleah Claxton shares her experiences with Raincoast in the summer of 2021 throughout the Salish Sea.

I first met the crew of the Achiever in July of 2021 through my work with the Reefnet Revitalization Program.  

The Reefnet Revitalization Project is an environmental education program led by the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, focused on engaging local youth with cultural awareness and the passing of Indigenous knowledge from Elder to Youth.  

The program’s aim was to create local stewardship and conservation opportunities and connecting W̱SÁNEĆ youth to place through immersive, nature-based experiences. By blending Indigenous Knowledge with Western Science, the program aimed to broaden youth perspectives and understanding with nature.

The core focus of the program revolved around the constructing and maintaining of a traditional reef-net to reclaim a critical piece of W̱SÁNEĆ culture. As a part of this program, Raincoast partnered with the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council to provide multiple day trips and one overnight trip to culturally relevant parts of our territory on the Salish Sea. 

“Flycatcher Forest is a beautifully intact Coastal Douglas Fir habitat, one of very few left on the island, and I had the pleasure of helping to remove a large patch of Daphne from the forest floor.”

I was excited to work with captain Drew Graham, first mate Nate Glickman and education coordinator Asta Mail. I felt an amazing connection with Asta the day I met her, I soon realized she has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to our waters and the creatures who inhabit them. I’ve always aspired to study marine biology and meeting someone who is as excited and passionate about this field as I am was a first. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet her because she helped me realize that there are so many doors that lead me to new career and education possibilities.

4 boats in the water setting a reef net.
An aerial view of the first Reef net launch in 2020. Photo by Alex Harris.

The Reefnet Program ended in mid-August. I was still in awe of the past weeks I just spent on and around the water with an amazing group of W̱SÁNEĆ  youth, reclaiming a traditional way of fishing that has been lost to our people for the past century. 

It was at that time that Asta reached out to me, proposing a land restoration project taking place over the fall months. The position she was interested in hiring me for was as a Restoration Program Liaison. I would be leading a restoration project to remove invasive plant species from a dune beach covenant area. I was a bit apprehensive to be taking on such a big responsibility. 

My nerves were buzzing with excitement. An opportunity like this doesn’t come up too often and I was eager to get the ball rolling. As Asta ran me through the position responsibilities, I realized how amazing it was that just a few months previous I was dreaming of a job just like this one. I was given the ability to put my skills, passion and knowledge to work. I’ve always known I wanted to be a steward for the lands and waters I’ve lived with my entire life, and to get Indigenous voices heard. 

Three students on a boat looking at a map.
Riley Seward and Kaleah Claxton learning how to chart distances aboard Achiever. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Working on Achiever gave the Reef Net crew the chance to learn about land restoration, and provided us with get hands-on experience removing invasive plants from QENENIW̱ (Hay Point, Pender Island). I was extremely grateful to be able to share my knowledge of our native plants and medicines with the reefnet group where I could.

Growing up I was infatuated with native plants and the medicines that surrounded me. I bombarded my father with questions about any plant that stood out to me. Camas, Oceanspray, Cedar, Willow; those are just a few of the plants and trees my dad taught me about as a kid.

Kaleah Claxton stripping cedar.
Kaleah works with a piece of cedar bark she harvested at S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest. with the guidance of elder SELILYE. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

As I grew a little older, I started learning about invasive species and the influences they have on our native habitats. I learned about Scotch Broom, and European Beachgrass. I learned that the Blackberries I grew up feasting on were Himalayan Blackberries, and how this species and so many more choke out our native trees and medicines. 

In the fall of 2021, I had the opportunity to work with Shauna Doll on a wonderful restoration project based in S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest in the heart of Pender Island. Flycatcher Forest is a beautifully intact Coastal Douglas Fir habitat, one of very few left on the island, and I had the pleasure of helping to remove a large patch of Daphne from the forest floor. This work has encouraged me to continue learning about environmental restoration, and I look forward to working more with Asta and Shauna on this kind of work in the future.

I didn’t know until this summer that an organization like Raincoast existed right here on the coast of BC, and how perfect a fit it would be for my dreams and aspirations. I can’t thank Raincoast enough for the work they’re doing with the W̱SÁNEĆ  peoples. I look forward to being a part of future restoration projects around my home community.

There are many educational
opportunities with Raincoast.

Help us protect KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest

Together with Pender Islands Conservancy, we are raising funds to purchase and permanently protect a 45 acre forested property on the edge of the Salish Sea. The KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest is located within the Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) biogeoclimatic zone, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in Canada. It is also among the most threatened in Canada. Protecting these forests is an investment in our collective future.

We’ve just announced a donation matching campaign to support the purchase and permanent protection of KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest. Every dollar donated before December 31, 2022 will be matched by anonymous donors. This is a chance for you to double your impact!