Rebecca Gunn Hansen is a youth leader. Rebecca took part in Sierra Club BC’s Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP). For many years, YELP provided a space for powerful and transformative youth learning on environmental issues.
From September 20 to 27, more than 7.6 million people across the globe rose up for climate justice. So, what’s next?
By Education Program Manager Ciera DeSilva
I am thrilled to join Sierra Club BC as the new Education Program Manager and to work alongside our passionate Environmental Educators, Kirsten and Amira. The previous Education Program Manager, James Davis, was patient and thorough in training me and will remain in the Victoria area working on projects related to music and community, often fueled by bicycle power!
My path towards this environmental position was long and curvy.
Like all pre-schoolers in my native Bermuda, I learned not to waste water, as all drinking water is rainwater collected on one’s roof and stored in a big tank under one’s house. Starting at age five, I had a passion for monarch butterflies. I learned about local plant species with my grandfather, whose home was surrounded by bright flowers, aloe vera plants, a small banana patch and a papaya tree. My school created an edible plant garden and encouraged entry in the national agricultural exhibition.
Year round, I retreated to my favourite hangout spots in trees near where I lived. Summers included day camps—that had us outside sketching nature and collecting beach glass for art projects—but mostly, beach time. This included boogie boarding, building sand castles, exploring tide pools ecosystems and collecting garbage. I also adored visiting green turtles at the local aquarium, all rescued after boats collided with them. My ‘factual’ knowledge of coral reef ecosystems was enhanced by snorkeling among coral reefs that, luckily, my government and many non-profit organizations were working to protect.
My family moved to unceded Cowichan territories when I was 11. Joining Grade 7 Canadian students full of questions about my origins made me think about who I was in a new way. I enjoyed fieldtrips, but felt disadvantaged as I didn’t know about plants, animals or ecosystems on Vancouver Island. Though I hated the long rainy days and (relative) cold, I soon felt happy among friendly classmates and art class became my favourite.
Spending my formative years in the Cowichan Valley permitted me ample nature time. I swapped my tropical tree friends in Bermuda for sturdy Douglas firs and colourful maples trees. I learned to compost, hike, camp, kayak and build a campfire. I was thankful to never be far from the smell of salty waters and marine life of Cowichan and Maple Bay.
At school there was, tragically, little to no mention of the First Nations whose unceded land we lived, worked and played on. I first thought about this difference while living and attending public school on unceded Mayan territory in southeastern Mexico following Grade 12. My interdisciplinary studies (International Relations, Spanish and French) allowed me to pursue my interests, and launched me towards an internship in northern Peru. There, my non-profit team offered programs that included literacy, environmental sustainability (reducing plastic consumption, recycling and tree-planting) and teaching advocacy and leadership skills to youth and parents in marginalized communities.
Peruvians inspired me to dedicate my life to education. I moved to Vancouver for a Bachelor of Education program and stayed for my first teaching contracts. Joining the teaching profession in 2016 meant internalizing the importance of reconciliation. Our communities, schools, politicians, families and our own individual selves are at different places and moving at different paces in unique journeys towards reconciliation. I aim to bring the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning more authentically into Sierra Club BC Education Programs, while forming meaningful partnerships with First Nations communities.
Your presence reading this blog shows your interest in environmental education. Perhaps this fascination is rooted in memories of time that you, like me, were fortunate to spend outdoors while growing up. Regardless of how you got here, thank you for forming part of this learning community, for your openness to growth and to try new activities with your students and education community members.
I would love to hear your education suggestions, ideas, success stories and challenges via phone or email. Je parle français, yo hablo español e eu falo português (I speak French, Spanish and Portuguese), so don’t hesitate to contact me in one of those languages if it is more comfortable for you.
Best wishes for a beautiful Summer Solstice and season of peace, warmth, and refreshing ties with your communities.
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By Education Program Manager James Davis
It is with mixed emotions that I move on from my role as Education Program Manager. I have learned so much over the past two years and feel grateful for the opportunity to have worked with an amazing team of people here at Sierra Club BC, as well as teachers and students across the province.
I am excited to spend lots of time outside this summer and will be helping out at the Earth Activist Training permaculture course at OUR Ecovillage as a teaching assistant. I am also working with a team to organize the Victoria Bicycle Music Festival, which will take place in Lekwungen Territory on July 21st.
I am thrilled to be handing over the role to Ciera DeSilva, who has spent the past three years working as a teacher in Vancouver.
Ciera will have a chance to tell you more about herself in our June Education E-News, but I can tell you that I have been very impressed by her passion, creativity and dedication to reconciliation and equity. I look forward to working with her over the coming weeks to get her oriented before I leave Sierra Club BC in mid-June.
Thanks to all of you who are working hard to connect children and youth with nature. May the kinder, more beautiful world that we envision come into reality!
By Kirsten Dallimore, Environmental Educator
When I go out into nature I am looking to feel some sort of connection. I use my senses to explore the landscape, the flora and fauna and the water. I always need to go to the water because being near water brings me a sense of calmness like nothing else. I have a quiet mind and child-like play comes out when I am near water, which leads me to have a deeper nature connection moment in that place.
When I am in nature I am often searching for a place to spend time reflecting in, or I am looking to have a big wild nature moment. A big nature moment is when you finally reach the top of the mountain and look out and see a bald eagle flying above you. I’m always seeking out adventure and also a feeling of being alive and free. I know my big nature moments will lead me to have a great story to share when I get back home.
A core routine I like to practice is sharing my story of the day. Sharing your story with someone who is fully listening is a way you can experience a fulfilling and longer lasting deep nature connection moment.
There is a lot of talk out there about making a connection with nature. What is connection? What does it look like for you? How does it feel when you make a connection with nature? How are we able to connect more deeply with nature? And at the same time how can we connect with ourselves and others in a meaningful way?
One endeavour I’ve taken on this year is participating in a program called the Renewal of Creative Path. This is a program shared by Jon Young through the 8 Shields Institute. The 8 Shields Institute is a global movement in rebuilding nature-connected intergenerational mentoring communities.
I’ve felt very excited to find this place where I could dive deeper into these questions about building connection. I wanted to see what I could discover about what it takes to be fully alive and engaged. I want to share with all of you the eight attributes of connection.
Each attribute is associated with one of the eight directions:
- North-Love and forgiveness
- Northeast– Quiet mind
- East-Inner Happiness/Child-like happiness
- South-Mentoring & paying it forward/Unconditional listening
- Southwest– Empathy and respect for nature
- West-Being truly helpful, gifts are activated
- Northwest-Fully aliveness/Awareness of the sacredness of life
To get started on this journey I encourage you to go through each attribute and ask these five simple questions:
- What’s happening with me when I have this attribute?
- What is this attribute telling me?
- What is this attribute teaching me on a deeper level?
- How is this attribute helping me?
- How is this attribute helping me to help others?
The goal of having all of these attributes working within you is to become fully connected with nature, yourself and others in your community. Once you have gone through each question for the eight attributes, you can start to design your own ideal scene journal.
An ideal scene journal is something you can create at the beginning of each year that sets the stage for how you can be working towards being fully connected. This can be created by writing down how you envision yourself embodying these attributes. The more specific, the better.
Best wishes to everyone in finding your own path to connection with nature, yourself and your community.
I encourage you all to get connected with the 8 Shields Institute to learn more about deep nature connection, mentoring and cultural repair. You can learn more at: http://8shields.org/about/about-the-8-shields-model/
Feature image by Jess Alford
By Amira Maddison, Environmental Educator
This fall, Kirsten and I had the mission of hitting the road on two separate trips to teach across Vancouver Island. We had the pleasure of visiting School Districts 68, 69, 71, 72, 84 and 85 and working with new schools, students, and teachers.
Our first trip in October led us to beautiful Kwakwaka’wakw, K’ómoks, Homalco, Klahoose, and Tla’amin Nation (Sliammon) territories. We set off from Victoria and went as far north as Campbell River and Quadra Island.
To the W̱SÁNEĆ people, October is the month of PEKELÁNEW̱ – “The Moon That Turns the Leaves White.” This moon marks the end of summer and the beginning of cooler weather. For the gardeners in the crowd, it brings the first fall frost. Fortunately for Kirsten and I, we were greeted by bright blue clear skies and sunshine bright enough to warrant packing shorts for the trip, and affectionately being able to call the month Aug-tober.
Although I’m a firm believer that place-based education can be done in any setting, central and northern Vancouver Island’s raw beauty helped create an ideal learning environment. To be talking about ecosystems in a classroom immediately followed by seeing producers and decomposers in the forest behind the school is an excellent reinforcement for learning, and helps create a connection to that place.
On Quadra Island we had the opportunity to teach every class in the small elementary school, tying our programs directly into a strip of second-growth forest directly behind the school. Not only were we able to inform the youth of the island, but we were also able to team up with Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC’s Senior Forest And Climate Campaigner, and Sierra Club BC’s Quadra Island Local Group for a night about the state of the forest, possible solutions, and how to help save BC’s endangered rainforest.
Our second trip took place at the end of November and took us to Snuneymuxw, Homalco, K’ómoks, Te’mexw, Tla’amin Nation (Sliammon), ‘na̱mǥis, Kwakwaka’wakw, Quatsino, and Nuu-chah-nulth territories. We set off teaching our way north to Port Hardy, making detours along the way to islands and western Vancouver Island communities.
To the W̱SÁNEĆ people November is the month of SJELCASEN – “The Moon of Putting Your Paddle Away in the Bush.” As we travelled north to Port Hardy, we quickly learned why. This moon is the season of strong winds. The weather is unpredictable and brings rough seas.
We Sierra Club BC educators aren’t afraid of a little bad weather – or in this case a wind, waves, and rain warning from Environment Canada. We suited up with rain jackets ready to facilitate our programs outside in any weather. To our amazement, students were enthusiastic about joining us for a program regardless of the conditions. The weather held out long enough for Kirsten and I to catch ferries to t̕łat̕ła̱sk̓udis (Sointula) and ‘ya̱lis (Alert Bay) respectively to reach communities across Broughton Strait. ‘ya̱lis has a thriving ‘na̱mǥis community with a vibrant culture where the elementary school students learn Kwak’wala.
Once we made it to Port Hardy, we switched gears. Here we would be leading a workshop for the school district’s Professional Development Day. Our half-day session had teachers in attendance who taught from Kindergarten up to Grade Twelve, and we were providing information to better incorporate place-based learning into their teaching routines. What a pleasure it was to take this group of educators to a local stream and talk about activities to tie in with different areas of the BC curriculum.
Port Hardy also gave us extra time with the students at the elementary school. Kirsten and I helped facilitate, but more importantly got to participate in the school’s after-hours Ecoart club. We were inspired by the local river system and the natural items – from plants to bones – that Kirsten and I have in our teaching supplies to create multimedia works of art.
As we made our way back down the island, I reflected on all the communities we had been to.
Every child that grows up on Vancouver Island lives on the territory of an Indigenous nation. I hope that our education programs are able to plant the seed of connection with this land, but also of inclusivity with those we share it with.
I’m very thankful for the experiences I’ve had and all the students and staff that have helped make our programs a success.
Please donate today to help get more kids outside in 2019.
Feature image: Humpback spouts seen from Quadra Island. Photo by Jens Wieting.