Living the Fraser River

Living the Fraser River

SLLP Opinion Editorial 2014
By Noelani Dubeta

Table of Contents:
1) Introduction to the SLLP
2) Life in a Canoe: Who is the Program Suited to?
3) Geography of a Rivershed Journey
4) Culture and Spirit of the Fraser
5) Focus Areas and Project Development
6) A Call to Action
7) What Should You Consider When Applying to the Program?
8) Facts and Stats from SLLP Graduates

1) Introduction to the SLLP

What is it like to take on a challenge, travelling by river through wilderness and history with a team of like-minded people who care about the future of people and the planet? The Sustainable Living Leadership Program is the ultimate 25-day wilderness experience. If you have ever dreamed of being immersed in nature on a journey with people who care about sustainable communities and a better world, you might be just the kind of person the Rivershed Society of British Columbia would select to foster your leadership skills and to paddle the Fraser River.

IMGP1454Surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, you meet locals from communities along the way and you engage in discussions about topics on sustainability as you travel the 1,400 kilometre journey down the mighty Fraser River by canoe and white-water raft. The river is like a string that connects a web of life: stories that bind people, the environment, and sense of place together. The waters of the Fraser wind through ancient rainforests, deserts and grasslands, through sweet-smelling sagebrush and natural floodplains. This unique opportunity requires stamina, courage, personal integrity, commitment, teamwork, creativity, openness, compassion and a willingness to absorb all that presents itself to you while giving yourself wholeheartedly to each new challenge, large or small. The trip gives you space to explore your personal values and your environmental and social concerns within a supportive group, and exposes you to knowledge on topics such as sustainable systems, riversheds, ecological footprints, bio-geoclimatic zones, the forests of BC, salmon, deep ecology, simplicity and climate and energy. Simply put, the journey is a trip of a lifetime.

Arriving in Richmond
Arriving in Richmond

Days are spent paddling down the river engaging with peers, facilitators, and the RSBC’s extensive network of First Nation and Non-Native leaders in Fraser River communities. You will also be responsible for taking care of the team and your camp all while being immersed in the diverse landscapes of BC’s rich ecosystems. You can even swim in the river while on the move—that is, if you’re brave enough to jump in!

Evenings are spent camping under the stars along the banks of the river where you can expect to work on designing your own sustainable community project that you will implement upon your return. You’ll also spend time creating a journal about your daily experiences, reading learning materials and sharing stories and knowledge about the things that matter to you most. At the end of your trip you will feel inspired by the accomplishment of completing a journey few have ever done.

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2) Life in a Canoe: Who is the Program Suited to?

What it is like to live and camp along a large river? You travel the upper and lower portions of the river in a voyageur canoe, with all team members paddling together. The canoe becomes a part of you, your team and your way of life. It lends rhythm to your paddle strokes, coordinating you in teamwork to move the vessel onward down the river.

During the middle stretch of the river you travel by motorized raft, which itself becomes a floating classroom—the perfect learning environment from which to view river-etched ridges and canyons as you explore your project ideas and engage in meaningful dialogue with your teammates. The ropes along its sides are also a great place to hang on to through the rapids!

Noelani Dubeta hanging out over a valley.
Noelani Dubeta hanging out over a valley.

Moving down the river on a raft provides a rich learning environment during the days, and this is complimented by the varied landscapes of the riverbank camps you will stop at each evening. The guides and facilitators share a wealth of historic and contemporary knowledge about the surrounding landscapes, and there is much pleasure to be had in sipping a hot chocolate under the stars, bathing in the river at sunset, or in exploring the surrounding landscapes of changing forests and grasslands. As you paddle down the Fraser, numerous tributaries add their waters and power to build the Fraser’s strength and intensity on its own journey to the sea.

Arriving in Jericho, August 24th.

Choosing to embark on such a journey requires stamina and a willingness to engage in the adventures that await around the next bend. The days can be long, but the invigorating nature of being in the great outdoors often leaves people with energy to burn helping with duties around camp and cooking even after an all-day paddle. Being outdoors is a different kind of work than a desk job. It goes without saying that you will want tobe physically fit and ready to pitch in for the success of the trip.

During the journey, the team’s food and equipment, along with your gear, is stored in boxes and dry bags and travels with you in the raft. Everything you need travels with you, and one of the highlights of disembarking the canoe or raft each day is perfecting the human chain to unload all of the gear up the banks and into the campsite each afternoon! This trip will be unlike anything else you have encountered, and as such you can expect to gain team-building, communication, conflict resolution and critical thinking skills as part of this dynamic program, all while immersed in the beauty and splendour of a part of the natural world many have never experienced. Taking on the challenge of an extended wilderness trip requires dedicated perseverance, endurance and mental stamina. It also requires patience, friendship and compassion for your own and others limitations when the going gets tough. The ability to put yourself in a fellow team member’s shoes when one is struggling is a valuable skill, especially after a long day’s paddle in the cold rain. At the end of the trip you will feel triumphant and inspired by the accomplishment of completing a journey few have ever done with a renewed sense of confidence to make a difference in your community.

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3) Geography of a Rivershed Journey

The Fraser River, a Canadian Heritage River, is the largest river in BC. It has the most productive salmon fisheries in the world and brings in tens of millions of dollars each year from the salmon catches. Its headwaters begin at Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains and it empties some 1,400 km later into the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. The history of BC is deeply tied to the Fraser River, having been an essential trade route between the interior and the lower coastal areas. First Nations people have lived in the area for thousands of years relying on the Fraser for food, settlement, and transportation. Traces of pit house camps and petroglyph engravings on riverside boulders are a testament to their long partnership with land for the sustenance of their communities.

Along the banks of the river stand remnants of the old Gold Rush years, with abandoned mining and hunting cabins dotting the shoreline. Old trails, rail routes and stone walls and piles of rock washed by Chinese labourers still remain from the early settlers and explorers who made their way north driven by “gold fever”.

Rafting through the Fraser Canyon.
Rafting through the Fraser Canyon.

On the trip you pass through ten of British Columbia’s fourteen bioregional geo-climatic zones.The upper Fraser River runs a clear blue, with lush ancient rainforests and the high striations of the Rocky Mountains flanking it’s banks. The climate of the middle Fraser is much warmer and dryer, hosting deserts complete with cacti amongst varied grasslands and sagebrush. In the lower Fraser, the coastal forests give way to agricultural lands capitalizing on the rich, fertile soil of the delta’s floodplains. The presence of modern day industry and urban development appears in stark contrast to the more remote and wilder areas of the upper and middle Fraser. Bridges, boats, logs, docks and factories bring a deep awareness of how human activity continues to utilize the river for commerce and industrial purposes. Navigating this final stretch of the Fraser as it winds through densely populated urban areas brings to light some of the challenges we face as a society: that of the cost of our current economic model on the health of our environment.

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4) Culture and Spirit of the Fraser

DFO fish demonstration.
DFO fish demonstration.

It is often said the people make the place. Travelling down the Fraser is as much about the communities you will pass through as it is about the beauty of the natural landscapes. Along the way you engage in interactive experiences with a number of different local communities braided together by the river. You will meet and mingle with The Rivershed Society of BC’s extensive network of First Nation and Non-Native community leaders who share their stories of salmon fishing, organic farming, Canada’s canoeing history and local knowledge of the flora and fauna native to the diverse geographies through which you will be travelling. Community spokespersons range from government officials the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who give fish demonstrations to tales from an expert biologist on the Northern Spotted Owl. You may be welcomed by members of First Nations who live along the Fraser offering aboriginal songs, a dip-net demonstration or a blessing, or you may find yourself tomato picking in a veggie patch and learning about organic farming from a local volunteer, community farmer or rancher along the way.

2013 SLLP participant Noelani Dubeta (center) at a cultural gathering.
2013 SLLP participant Noelani Dubeta (center) at a cultural gathering.

You will also gain a unique perspective through a range of community events, such as the Salmon in The Canyon Festival in Lillooet or the Cultural Day at the Xatśūll Heriage Village that the Sustainable Living Leadership program works to have coincide with the travel itinerary. Just as from the land itself, there is much to learn from the Fraser communities and their leaders you will be inspired their by their experiences and knowledge of this storied landscape.

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5) Focus areas and project development

As you continue along your journey down the Fraser you will gain an understanding of the context and issues facing the Fraser River Basin, as well as an understanding of the complexities of the environmental and social challenges of our times. At the commencement of the program, you will be given a binder that contains a number of articles, maps, information and framework tools—your own personal reference materials to be used as the basis for deeper inquiry along the journey. The trip is structured in such a way that during the first few days the group is given ample opportunity to get to know each other at camp, to gain useful knowledge about the Fraser River Basin, and to partake in camp and canoe training in preparation for the adventure that lies ahead. The facilitators assist in laying the groundwork, honing in on the group’s interests, individual personality traits and talents, group expectations, hopes and fears. In an atmosphere of group and self-inquiry, you can expect to share ideas, delve into a broad assortment of questions to stimulate discussion and begin to explore the personal values that have brought you on this journey. Articles from the binder are presented in innovative, creative ways, all while using the shady river banks as a living classroom. You are also encouraged to journal each day for the length of the trip, recording your impressions and observations by recording memorable quotes, sketching, or whatever else suits your needs. This is a private diary which you will not be required to share and will serve as a recorded memory of the trip to look back upon.

2013 SLLP participant Candice Jack holding a Salmon Life Cycle poster
Candice Jack holding a Salmon Lifecycle poster

Educational topics covered throughout the program range from broader subjects such as climate change and sustainability to focused topics such as food security, energy use and salmon. Concerns and issues identified in the articles highlight the environmental challenges facing Canadians and offer suggestions for creating more sustainable societies and systems. Problems requiring attention, such as reducing waste and pollution and protecting and conserving water are addressed, and your group will be given opportunities to think about these challenges and consider broad and localized solutions. The articles together form a call out for the need to address multi-level socio-economic and environmental challenges facing the Fraser River, our societies and the country. These subject areas, together with the knowledge shared amongst participants, facilitators and community liasons create a backdrop to the ongoing support and development for your own sustainability project. With the completion of a number of learning and team building days, you and your fellow Sustainable Living leaders and facilitators embark in a single Voyageur canoe as set off in the Fraser’s headwaters. By the time you reach the Pacific Ocean, you will have designed your own sustainable action project suited to your community and to your interests for implementation upon your return from this epic journey.

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6) A Call to Action

Today, unfortunately, many people lack a real understanding of the true value of wilderness areas and clean rivers, only valuing them in terms of their potential for economic reward. Because of this dis-connection with wild places, few people are strongly motivated to protect them. The Sustainable Living Leadership Program highlights the need to address multi-level socio-economic and environmental challenges facing BC’s people and lands. In a Province where material gains and perpetual growth are consistently culturally championed, our ability to recognise the value of living in lighter ways is paramount to our healthy, prosperous, and flourishing future. Sadly, consumerist lifestyles promoted by the media and a culture of consumption also create destabilizing effects on our social fabric by isolating individuals who compete for objects that represent ‘success’ and social status. Rather than fostering cooperation and prosperity that would benefitthe common good, there is a lack of environmental awareness in society which erodes our interest in preserving the natural world. The negative effects of over-consumption of energy and goods are often disconnected from their cumulative impact on the environment.

Our society’s ability to foster shared community values—placing the health of the environment at the centre of the agenda in tandem with the heath of individuals—requires realistic, achievable goals for sustainable communities. For every action there is a reaction, and therefore with the current environmental challenges we face,we must proceed through our lives with care, for the consequences of our actions will have a direct impact on the preservation of our planet,ourselves and future generations.

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7) What should you consider when applying to the program?

Do you see yourself as an emerging leader in your community? Would you like to further develop your leadership skills? Have you got a vision of a sustainable project that would benefit your home community? Are you passionate about sustainability and environmental issues?

The SLLP is about creating lasting social change, and along the way we will help you develop your community project as an initial step in creating a better world for tomorrow. The commitment we require is that you follow through on executing your plan upon your return and realize your goal. We are here to help after your river journey too.

Wrapping up the rafting portion of the Fraser River trip in Yale, BC.
Wrapping up the rafting portion of the Fraser River trip in Yale, BC.

We are looking for applicants with the skills and qualities to become future leaders capable of advocating for and implementing initiatives with the intention of improving quality of life and well-being of your riversheds and community. We are building a network of leaders who can speak to the sustainable management of rivers, wilderness areas, wild animals, local communities and natural resources. Taking on this challenge requires bravery, cooperation, integrity, time, a willingness to step into the unknown and lots of enthusiasm.

SLLP graduates are the foot soldiers on the frontline in the challenge to protect our rivers, forests, and our living communities. We are looking for those who choose to view the challenges that lie ahead as being surmountable and are prepared to do something about them by taking action. SLLP graduates are exceptional leaders who understand that the problems of our world can only be tackled by working together. The program is designed to focus our energy and resources on the selected participants from around the Fraser River Basin. Candidates are selected based on factors like integrity, compassion and demonstrated follow-through. We look for those who have a vision for change, and who are prepared to devote real time to the community projects they design. We back you up with advice, coaching, guidance and where possible, funding.

If you are motivated to working towards change in your community then  we would love to hear from you. If you feel ready to tackle the challenge of the Fraser for twenty-five days with like-minded peers, working together to make lasting change for the common good, then apply to the Sustainable Living Leadership Program today!

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8) Facts and Stats from SLLP Graduates

SLLP graduates form a unique network of over 75 participants representing all walks of life and areas of British Columbia. In 2014, Noelani Dubeta, an SLLP graduate, conducted a survey to capture the insights and views of previous graduates on what they gained from the program and what they felt were the priorities for addressing sustainability issues affecting the Fraser River Basin and its communities. Here are some of the values, concerns and fond memories that SLLP graduates shared in relation to the philosophy and vision of the Sustainable Living Leadership Program.

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