This year will be my-forth year swimming through the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk in the Great Bear Rainforest. My journey started in April 2016 when I first jumped in the water in Cusins Inlet at Mirron Valley near Ocean Falls. I remember it like it was yesterday. Friends Colette and Kevin Hennigan and Dale Robinson were with me. Dale and I walked down the boat launch into the water as Colette and Kevin stood on shore. I walked further into the 10 C water submerging my entire body. Soon after, I dove in head first swimming into the deeper water. As I surfaced, I could taste the sweetness of the saltwater on my lips. The water was crisp and clear and clean; I was surrounded by endless mountains and big blue sky. It looked and felt like no other place I had been before. It felt right.
It was at that point that I knew my decision to swim through the rainforest was the best way to learn about it. It was at that point that the Great Bear Swim became real.
I have now swum from Ocean Falls to Bella Bella, through Lama Pass, across Fisher Channel and as part of shorter swim from the Burke Channel to Namu. This year I will return to Fisher Channel and hope to swim down to the Burke, cross that channel and then swim past Namu to Koeye.
Each time I swim in the region I learn more.
Ocean Falls, Bella Bella, Namu and Koeye are a long way and vastly different from my birth town of Montreal in the traditional territory of the Mowhak, where I lived for close to 30 years. Yet some-how I feel more at home and at peace in Great Bear. I feel life has more meaning and I feel people are more connected to one another in more meaningful ways.
My journey started with a single Facebook post by my dear friend Colette. It was a post about banning tankers from travelling through the Inside Passage and through all of the communities along the coast. I wanted to understand why “no tankers”. I had heard some of the arguments for and against, but at a very superficial level. I thought swimming in the water would provide me with a better understanding of what it was that is at risk.
I know I have far more to learn than I have learned thus far. I am not an expert on any of this by any means. I am simply a swimmer who has tasted the sweetness of the salt water.
Most importantly what I have learned is that this place, the Great Bear Rainforest, is home to many. It is home to the wilderness that thrives here, and it is home to the First Nations people that have lived here for generation after generation after generation. It is home to settlers who have come here to live in the peaceful wilderness. What I have also learned, is that it is not my place to determine what happens here but what I can do is, support the will of the people who live in this community. They are the keepers of the land and water and they know what is best.
Please consider making a donation to the QQS Projects Society – Koeye Camp. The camp is a science and cultural camp program for Heiltsuk youth that takes place every summer in the Koeye River Valley.