Spirit Bears Are Calling Us
First Nations historic declaration to ban bear trophy hunt in the Great Bear
Rainforest honours the spirit of late Nuxalk Chief Qwatsinas “Raven Spirit”
When I was 12-years-old and missing my mother after my parents’ recent separation, I witnessed the loss of another mother, this one much more final and tragic. Up close and personal, my sister Tanya and I experienced the sudden and accidental death of a mother black bear that had been hanging around the grounds of the lakeside fishing lodge my father had recently moved us to for a summertime management job. Years later, this experience would motivate me to become involved in helping to protect bears from the threats of trophy hunting, logging and inevitable oil spill disasters that tar sands pipelines and super tankers would cause.
At the fishing lodge, the previous managers had habituated the bears to human food by ignorantly leaving an open pit garbage dump not far from the lodge. They were not “Bear Aware.” Consequently, as always happens when this occurs, bears started coming regularly to eat the garbage and to try and get their food from campsites, cabin porches, cars, etc., exhibiting threatening behaviour towards the people staying with us. Dad didn’t mean to kill the bear and the unexpected result has weighed heavily on his heart and ours, to this day.
I’ll never forget seeing him take his rifle by the barrel and smash it on a tree trunk in the anguish and torment of regret moments afterward. After she was skinned by a local hunter who volunteered to do it, my father said he was haunted by how much the bear’s body looked like a human body. The accident happened because my dad was trying to protect the lodge, our campsite guests and the bears from a potentially dangerous encounter. The prevailing thinking of the day was that if one “dusted” a bear in the behind with birdshot, the little pellets would only cause temporary pain and deter the bears from returning. We will always wish it had gone that way, but somehow, the shot killed her instantly.
The two adorably cute, furry, innocent and heartbroken cubs spent the next few days living in a big tree just outside the lodge kitchen window. We named them ‘Andy’ and ‘Potsy’ and fed them cooked oatmeal from a big pot until the game warden took them away. I often thought of those beautiful bear cubs and wondered what had happened to them. We just didn’t know… and it hurt. As I write these words, my emotions and grief overtake me again and the tears flow. For years, I’ve felt that one day I would do something to make it up to bears, to balance the karma.
How did this experience influence my personal experience of the loss of motherhood, to some degree in my life? It has become clear to me that it had a significant effect.
My fried, Sonya Weir, Managing Editor of this magazine, and a Shamanic Coach with the Shamanic Institute says that an experience like this at that time in my life, considering what was happening with my family would have had an extremely profound effect on my psyche, the formation of my identity and personal karma and relationship with the bear medicine, the lands, waters, cultures and creatures of my home for all 45 years of my life; British Columbia. It would, of course, have a significant effect on my relationship with the feminine element of life and, of course…..especially the lens of the kingdom of the bear.
It’s now October 24, 2012, and we’re on the precipice of being rules by China in terms of our environmental policy and cultural identity and the new law, FIPPA, the Foreign Investment Protection & Promotion Agreement is set to become law on November 2nd unless there is a mass awakening in this country in the next 7 days!!
Go to http://leadnow.ca/canada-not-for-sale and http://www.greenparty.ca/media-release/2012-10-23/canada-china-investment-treaty-cannot-be-ratified-without-provinces-approva to learn what is at stake, how to take decisive actions RIGHT NOW that can and will make a difference for all of us.
We are about to lose our rightful connection to our Mother Earth, unless this kind of thinking changes FAST! Like, in the next 7 days!
Regardless of one loses their mother it is still very difficult for a child to understand and to deal with the feelings that come up.
A few years prior to this experience, I was living with my family (my parents were still together) just south of what is now known as the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) on and around Quadra Island. We lived in deep communion with nature and all her creations where the land meets the ocean and magic happens. Where “when the tide goes out, the dinner table is set,” as the first peoples of the coast say. The ocean provided an abundance of clams, oysters, a variety of fish and, of course, the mighty salmon, including salmon that were caught in the sea or during their annual migration back up a creek or river to the place of their birth. As a 10 year-old boy, living in a place called Bird Cover on Read Island, I would lie belly-down on the creek bank and watch in wonder and eager anticipation as crimson and green Sockeye salmon swam, wriggled and splashed their way towards me. I’d reach in and try to grab one by the gills, succeeding once in awhile, throwing it over my shoulder onto the bank behind me to proudly bring it home for dinner.
The bear, wolf, deer, orcas, whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, eagles, ravens and all creatures, mushrooms and plants spoke to us and gave us life. They also filled us with wonder and inspiration, as they have for the coastal first peoples since time immemorial. Creation stories from books like The Raven and the Deer had made deep and indelible impressions upon my mind, heart and soul, for which I continue to be profoundly grateful to my parents. We only lived this way for about 10 years. Can you imagine how sacred these things are to the first peoples? Can you imagine how devastating it is for them to witness this way of life treated so carelessly? When I was 11, we left the islands for Vancouver where our family split apart and my connection to my biological mother, as well as to ‘The Great Mother’ and the Great Bear Rainforest began to fade from my everyday experience.
On September 9th, within 24 hours of my only nephew Alex turning 9-years-old and 24 hours before the grizzly bear trophy hunt was to officially start again, I walked along Tote Road in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest with four friends and our guide hoping to have the honour of seeing a grizzly bear. To take this journey, I had to miss Alex’s birthday and I wished that he could be with me.
A few hours later, nearing the end of the hike, we had seen very fresh bear footprints and scat, but still no bears. Amrita’s foot was becoming sore so we decided to sit down at the cabin by the riverbank and have our lunch, hoping the bears might come to us. As we ate, we heard a “heated conversation” between bears taking place just upriver. The roaring of bears continued for a few minutes and a few hundred metres upriver, a beautiful, deep brown mother grizzly bear carefully walked along the riverbed, moving softly in and out of the bush, appearing and disappearing.
Our guide ushered us to the riverbank where we watched quietly behind some bushes. The bear came closer and closer, seemingly not noticing our thrilled group on the opposite riverbank. Standing up tall in the river, she shook some huckleberry bushes checking for berries. After a while, her golden yearling cub appeared and we watched them both walk past us peacefully on the other side of the river. James quietly snapped photos while we got even closer looks through binoculars, exchanging smiles and excited glances. At some point, both bears became aware of us but quietly looked over as if to say, “We see you, we are ok with you, please be gentle with our kind and take care of us and our lands and waters and the life that sustains all of us.” They disappeared out of sight around the corner as they continued on their salmon hunt. What an honour it was for all of us. I wondered if Alex would ever have such an experience As they disappeared around the river bend, I felt concern for them because of the lack of salmon this year due to two years of unprecedented flooding last year and in 2010. It destroyed the spawning grounds of salmon, but in particular, those of the pink salmon run which is the primary food source for grizzly bears in late summer to early fall. Pink salmon only have a two-year return cycle, so do the math. The local people are very concerned the pink run could be wiped out for many years. My thoughts turned again to Potsy and Andy and their mother all those years ago.
This first ever journey to the Great Bear Rainforest with the band ‘B.E.A.R.’ and friends had come together due to the music and arts community here in Vancouver that had been fundraising for the GBR in response to the myriad threats it now faces: proposed Enbridge oil supertankers, rupture-ridden pipelines, controversial logging practices called “eco-system-based management, toxic and disease-heavy industrial feed lot salmon farming, climate change and the grizzly bear trophy hunt, which is essentially the wholesale slaughter of bears for what is called “sport.” The entire region is under massive threat.
We had held two fundraisers in as many years with all profits going to PacificWild.org. The organization have been advocating for more much needed conservation on our central and north coast to support the complex and ancient cultures and creatures of the region. Pacific Wild is led by Ian and Karen McAllister, two people I regard as heroes for their tireless work to let the entire world know what is happening in the Great Bear.
My friends had started a music project called B.E.A.R. (Back to Earth Music and Re-creation) and created an inspiring new album of the same name which shares Native north American wisdom, values and stories about the bear, the salmon, the eagle and all of creator’s creatures through a truly unique and downright rocking music form.
Their music features Native chanting, drum, flute, guitar and powerful soul-stirring lyrics that get your heart, mouth and feet moving and dancing in joy and purpose. Have a listen to their title track “Bear I Am” at http://soundcloud.com/b-e-a-r/bear-i-am and see if spirit bear is calling you as it’s called us?
On the ferry ride up, we were treated with beautiful sunny, calm weather and a friendly crew who discovered there was a band on board singing for the Great Bear. They invited B.E.A.R. to perform at the afternoon barbeque on the sundeck. Just before the performance and after an unplanned jam session on the top deck solarium, we were visited by a group of three humpback whales that gave us a show we will never forget. They jumped right out of the water and slapped their flukes and tails on the water in a performance BC Ferries crew said they had not seen all year! It was as if they were saying to all of us; “Thanks for singing for us and our cousin, the bear!”
After a rousing performance at the BBQ, we were then visited by a school of at least 100 Pacific white-sided dolphins who swam along with the ferry, playing and jumping right into our hearts. It was magic. We felt Spirit was confirming to us that we were on the right path and we were supported and guided by benevolent forces we didn’t even know of… yet. Our group, consisting of Thilo ‘Many Bears’ Mehrhoff, Tim ‘The Mighty One’ Steinruck, Amrita “Mama Bear” Singh, James Scott (our photographer) and myself, “ Grizzly” Adam Siddhartha Sealey, had been sent off with blessings and hope for the GBR by our supportive and loving community after a fundraising event. People had written their prayers and messages for the GBR on Tibetan prayer flags in red, blue, white, green and yellow representing the five elements that support all life: fire, water, air, earth and ether. Our community wrote heartfelt messages on these flags and we collected more on the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola.
We would later present these prayer flags to our new friends from the BC Coastal Bear and Wolf Patrol, Kiff Archer and Jason Moody, who hosted us from the moment we arrived in Nuxalk Territory. We asked them to hang the prayer flags from the trees in a place of their choosing and they agreed. Kiff is a personal trainer and martial arts coach who has been working to protect bears and wolves for decades and is captain of his charter bear viewing boat “Nan,” which means “bear” in Nuxalk and most languages of the region. Jason Moody is the son of the dearly departed and much loved and revered Nuxalk Hereditary Chief Qwatsinas ‘Raven Spirit,’ who dedicated his entire life to feeding and caring for his people and to protecting the Great Bear Rainforest from illegal clear-cut logging and trophy hunting. Just before he passed away on August 31, 2010, he and his people raised the first new totem pole on the central coast of BC in over 100 years!
Our first day in Bella Coola was spent setting up B.E.A.R. headquarters at Eagle Lodge which is nestled between two spectacular Squamish-like granite mountain ranges in the large and fertile Bella Coola Valley. Our thanks to James at the lodge for offering us his beautiful teepee for our first night sleep and later living room. B.E.A.R. performed and held ceremony that night and all enjoyed.
We had fully arrived in the Great Bear Rainforest, home of the Spirit Bear, whose snow white coat reminds us that once the land was covered in ice and snow and now that we have life we should take care of our mother earth so she can take care of us.
On our second day in Bella Coola, Kiff and Jason took us in their boat to the site of the new totem pole, in a river estuary meadow just south of Bella Coola in a place called South Bentick. We sat on the grass at the base of the totem pole with Jason and listened to stories about its significance.He told us how it turned on its own as it was being placed to face in the exact direction they wanted it to and how the community now calls it “the totem pole that turns itself.” He told us how the river estuary and the valley across the fiord are important grizzly bear habitat and how the community wants it respected. All the while as he spoke, the sound of chainsaws screaming and trees crashing to the ground echoed across the fiord. There, logging was happening with only a rubber stamp approval from the government-created band office and council, with no approval from any of the current 15 hereditary chiefs who historically would make such decisions. Being in such a beautiful and sacred place, in personal discovery and ceremony as Thilo and Tim played “Bear I am, Bear I be” and “Ayo Fire in the Sky” for Jason and the group, we were all brought to tears by the sounds of those trees falling and such a sacred place being disrespected and harmed in this way.
The other form of disrespect to this place and its inhabitants comes in the form of the barbaric and cruel grizzly bear trophy hunt. Every year in the spring and fall, men from around the world descend on the Great Bear Rainforest to ‘claim their manhood’ and feel powerful by shooting a defenceless bear from a cabin or ‘bear-blind’ from a few hundred metres away. They fly in, step off the plane and end up shooting grizzly bears, sometimes females, sometimes pregnant, which is legal according to the BC Government. Shooting females with cubs or yearlings is illegal. From the scope of a rifle and without a skilled guide, how can they possibly discern which bears are mothers, other than if the bear is closely flanked by its cubs at the moment of the trigger being pulled? But the hunters likely wouldn’t care about that. Their only real worry would be that it is illegal. They also don’t seem to care that shooting the big males, which, of course, are highly coveted by trophy hunters, weakens the gene pool as it allows the weaker and smaller males to reproduce.
They then take their picture with the dead bear, cut off its paws and/or head for a trophy and sometimes take out its gallbladder to sell on the black market to Asian markets. They do this to impress their friends with how much of a ‘man’ they are and in a search of an identity through a ‘rite of passage’ type experience that is otherwise sadly lacking in our culture. There are better ways to become a man that don’t involve destroying some of our closest and dearest relatives.
As you read this article, 10 BC Coastal First Nations, none of whom have ever ceded their land or signed a treaty, are standing up on principle and saying, “We are tired of bringing people to see bears only to find the bodies of dead ones with their paws cut off lying in river estuaries.” They are declaring a ban on bear trophy hunting in their territory and declaring their own law, which, in effect, prohibits killing other than for food. And the fact is nobody eats bears. Grizzly bears are not edible. The BC government says the First Nations have no “jurisdiction” when it comes to the hunt, but this makes absolutely no sense. These people are the original inhabitants and have lived there sustainably for 10,000 years.
It’s time to end the hunt. Why is it illegal to kill a white Spirit Bear, but okay to kill a grizzly bear? Why is it ok to kill a black bear that has a one in 10 chance of giving birth to a white Spirit bear? The Spirit bear is far more rare than Panda bears. Could it be because we don’t want the world to know we allow hunters to shoot our 2010 Olympic mascot? That would be bad for our corporate image, wouldn’t it? We’re calling on our readers to help end this hypocrisy now.
All bears are important to our society, our history, our children and our collective morality and psychological wellbeing. According to traditional and shamanic lore, the bear represents powerful medicine and meaning for all of us, including the quality of introspection and the awakening of the power of the unconscious. If a bear shows up in your life, ask yourself some questions. Is your judgment off? How about those around you? Are you not recognizing what is beneficial in your life? Are you being too critical of yourself or others? The constellation Ursus Major, The Great Bear, in the northern hemisphere, is also known as the Big Dipper and is linked to the seven great rays of light to the divine.
If you watch a bear closely, you’ll see yourself and your children in their mannerisms and their social and family interactions. Because they are at the top of the food chain, they have never really had to defend themselves against predators (until us) so they are generally relaxed, with the freedom to roam, play, socialize and express their individuality. They also enjoy a varied omnivorous diet more similar to ours than perhaps any other mammal. They eat sustainably. They take only what they need. They are our teachers and direct relatives.
During its winter sleep, the black bear’s kidney shuts down completely. Scientists are studying this in hopes it may provide clues to more successful human kidney transplants.
In coastal peoples’ creation stories, in the first world there was the star nation and in the second world (time), the plant kingdom came to be. Then, in the third world, mythological creatures inhabited the earth, like the bear, the eagle and the orca and many more. In the fourth world, many of these creatures removed their animal costumes and became human. The T’simshian people believe bears and humans can shift form from one to another. Can we really justify killing bears for any reason knowing all of this? I, along with the majority, say “NO!”
Still another creation story says that on an island called Itsa, just west of Bella Coola, the first woman came down from the heavens and from there spread out to become all of the indigenous coastal peoples. Across from Itsa in a place called Kwatna where many bears are killed each year, a string of about 60 prayer flags, signed by people from Vancouver and other places, now hangs from the trees in the hope it will influence a coming time of peace and justice in the Great Bear Rainforest and an end to the bear hunt.
BC Coastal Bear and Wolf Patrol, with the authorization of the Hereditary Nuxalk Chiefs, and those of other nations, is now looking to enforce the 10-nation ban by bringing in additional volunteers willing to act as ‘Great Bear Sentinels.’ Teams of three to four people would camp out for a two-week shift in river estuaries where bears are routinely killed, taking photos and making videos of what is happening. They would then transmit them to Kiff and Jason at BC Coastal Bear and Wolf Patrol, who would respond appropriately. According to Kiff and Jason, hunters will often not shoot if they know they are being photographed, for fear of accidentally and illegally killing a female with cubs or yearlings.
The presence of volunteers would save many bears, including pregnant females and their offspring, from being needlessly killed. BC Coastal Bear and Wolf Patrol will train and transport people to the river estuaries and pick them up once the shift is done. People are asked to donate the fuel costs (about $300-$500 per trip) as well as their time and equipment and to pay for their own food and transportation.
This writer is seriously considering leading by example and doing a shift in late October. Who’s with me, for the bear and the memory of Qwatsinas?
To make this happen donations are needed to come in quickly. Contact Kiff Archer at 250-982-2274 or Jason Moody at 250-267-5384 or write them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Also, watch for the imminent launch of a fundraising campaign aimed at outfitting these volunteers with the gear, supplies and travel needed to get the job done.
It’s time we all demand a lot more respect for our precious bears by standing with the 10 First Nations and upholding their ban on bear killing. Once the hunt is stopped we’ll have those additional moral grounds to add to the argument that piping dangerous tar sands bitumen through pipes that eventually fail and shipping it out on ships that eventually spill is a non-starter.
An important lawsuit was just filed against Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent, by EcoJustice on behalf Wilderness Committee, David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and Wildsight, for his failure to implement strategies to protect endangered species like the Pacific humpback whale along the proposed route of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. His refusal to do so violates the Species at Risk Act. This legal action by the people shows us that there is a shift in consciousness and our approach to these kinds of issues occurring and it is possible to successfully hold personally liable those individuals who ignore our laws and trample on the rights of people, animals and the environment. The proposed 5th international law of ecocide as proposed by U.K. lawyer, Polly Higgins, of www.eradicatingecocide.com seems to be springing to life in practice around our world and I’m so glad to see it happening. Believe that your voice can make a difference. It can, it is and it will!
Please give generously to Pacific Wild so the organization can continue its crucial work to stop the trophy hunt and help the whole world fall in love with the Great Bear Rainforest, its beautiful bears, countless creatures and ancient complex cultures. Pick up a copy of the incredible book The Salmon Bears (lead photo in this article) by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read (Orca Book Publishers, www.orcabook.com)
Take action today
Write a handwritten letter to Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Environment Terry Lake and your local MLA or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-387-1715 and ask them to stop the trophy hunt. Ask your friends and family to do the same. Consider cc’ing your letter to the media. Contact lists and a letter template with addresses can be found at www.pacificwild.org
Also, sign the petition to end the bear trophy hunt
Today, only 50% of the Great Bear Rainforest is protected from logging. Add you voice to the campaign to put the remaining 50% off limits to logging at http://www.savethegreatbear.org/takeittaller
Adam Siddhartha Sealey, wildlife lover native to BC’s coast, has been following the Great Bear Rainforest story for two decades. He recently returned from an eye-opening journey to Bella Coola, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, with Thilo ‘Many Bears’ Mehrhoff and Tim ‘The Mighty One’ Steinruck from the band ‘B.E.A.R.’ The band was touring with its new album of the same name to remind us about our deep connection to the bear.
Also on the team were Amrita Singh acting as cook and “Mama Bear” and James Scott photographed the journey.
photos: Ian McAllister www.pacificwild.org