A’si’em nu schala’cha/Greetings friends,
It is a pleasure and a deep joy to wish you all a happy “hello” as HAT’s new Community & Development Coordinator! Even as these sorts of changes come with a certain amount of excitement. It’s with that in mind that my hopes for this – my first – post to the HAT blog begins by thanking Ashlea Veldhoen for being such a central part of the HAT community for the past (roughly) two years. Ashlea’s voice is all over HAT’s website, pamphlets, and newsletters, her energy the static that bound events together and we wish Ashlea well on her new adventures, and hope for the best in her quest to be a bird banding pro.
Part of my new role is to work with HAT’s awesome staff and community to come up with fun, exciting, and informative communications materials to keep that community informed. One of my first tasks in this regards is to work on this introductory post for the HAT blog. It’s too bad, really, that my first post isn’t about more covenants being monitored, or photos of a whole new bunch of bard owl chicks greeting the night for the first time…rather, it’s about me. But working in community is deeply important to me, and has informed a lot of my decisions in the last decade. Even with the internet being mostly a one-way medium, my hope is that this post will serve as a starting point for many conversations with the members, supporters, and volunteers that make HAT such an amazing place to work.
When my partner and I moved to L’kwungen and WSÁNEĆ from Osheaga (Montral) in 2015, working for an environmental NGO was still something of a dream of mine. Having grown up a predominantly Euro-North American settler in Anishnabek, Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee territory (Lanark and the Ottawa valley) and Montreal, much of my time was spent canoeing some of the spectacular lakes and rivers of the east, and hiking or skiing the rolling hills of the Laurentian and Appalachian mountains. Most of my early experiences on the land were with my parents, and it was through them that my connection with place began. (Un)Fortunately, given the drive of this world, spending time in a forest or along the banks of a river never seemed like a way to make a living for me, and my professional life took me far from those places that spoke to me.
The sound of industrial motors that powered massive machines and the breath of long-haul trucks made up a good portion of my early working years, and “nature” quickly became the backdrop for weekend adventures. After nearly a decade in logistics, a friend convinced me to give university a try, a privilege that many other people in this country and around the world are unable to even consider. It was this privilege and my growing awareness of it that informed my decision to study history, and carried me through the Quebec Student Movement as a participant and as an organizer for a graduate association. Social justice, in a large city like Montreal, can often miss the forest for the cement, and once again, the hills, forests, and valleys were relegated to pastimes, to those stolen moments between deadlines or marches.
All of this changed when we decided to move to Vancouver Island. Very quickly, the path that my feet had been walking started to take some unexpected turns, leading me to realize that working for the ecosystems that have sustained me and my ancestors was not only a dream, it was entirely possible (even without an ecology or biology degree!). Luckily, the Nature Conservancy of Canada was hiring at the time, and their development team was a perfect spot for me to familiarize myself with conservation, fundraising for eNGOs, and to begin growing my own roots into the vibrant conservation community in BC while honing my outreach abilities and getting to know the local landscape.
My good luck continued as working for NCC also put me in close contact with HAT. When life’s path again began to wind and twist and my tenure at NCC came to a close, it was at the same time that the HAT team was looking for someone to try and fill the gap that was going to be left by Ashlea’s departure. Having spent 2 years working in the same building as HAT and having spoken to staff and even members, working at HAT was not an opportunity I wanted to miss out on.
Sure, sitting in an office on Burnside Road East looks somewhat removed from the oasis of Matson Conservation Area, from the gripping beauty of the Sooke Hills, or from the rolling surf of Diitiida (Jordan River), those places that mean so much to me (and to many, many people) feel less distant. Especially in spirit. No longer are places that speak and call to me the providence of “free” time when my work is done, they are with me here, as they are with each of us in HAT’s community. They are the places that we bear witness for, and that we hope to protect from development for future generations of all species. They are why volunteers volunteer, donors donate, members vote in AGMs, and why I log on to my computer in the morning.
We are those places.