Made on Haida Gwaii: Dana Bellis brings new energy from the North

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Dana Bellis in Rouen, France, July 2010.

Today we introduce a new feature series: 'Made on Haida Gwaii,' by writer April Diamond Dutheil. Each week we will showcase the story of a talented young person who calls Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada’s North.

"One of the best things about me is being from Haida Gwaii," says Dana Bellis, 27, who recently returned from the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in Vancouver. Jaad Gudangaa 'laas, also known as Dana Bellis, attended George M. Dawson High School in Masset, learning determination and hard work from an early age.

"I always felt I had the support of the teachers and the community, but I also had to do it myself," she explains. The islands have given Dana incredible gifts. "The islands foster an independent, creative and confident determination," she explains, and she pays tribute to the Haida community and the island people.

Immersed in the field of consulting in policy development and community-engagement, Dana has been fortunate to work with Indigenous health and government organizations, energy companies and the aboriginally-owned and operated Indigenuity Consulting Group.

Dana is energized by the opportunity to work and engage with the community. "I am continually in awe of the people from Haida Gwaii, they have the innate ability to shape the world, making it how they want it to be," she says.

While earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Women's studies from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George, Dana played rugby with the UNBC Women's Rugby Team. As part of the team's community involvement, Dana coached the UNBC Girls Mini Rugby Team and helped to inspire confidence and healthy living among the young girls she coached. Dana later traveled to Kenya, learning about community development firsthand, and to Finland, where she studied circumpolar history.

Having explored the islands as a child and visited Europe at age eight, Dana's curiosity recently took her to Norway. At Tromsø University, the only university in the world above the Arctic Circle, Dana studied reindeer herding history and its relation to gender and policy, obtaining a master's degree in the Philosophy of Indigenous studies. Her time in Norway brought her an offer to publish her research, and Dana considers her studies abroad to be one opportunity among many which have shaped where she is today.

But you won't find her biggest accomplishments on her resume. Named Jaad Gudangaa 'laas, which means 'Happy Lady,' Dana considers striving for happiness to be central to a good life.

Working from Haida Gwaii fosters a work-life balance like none other. "I can work during the day, then relax with friends and family, baking cookies for the Masset soup kitchen and sewing quilts for charity," she explains.

Dana also notes the career benefits of being on the islands: "Where else in the world can you be mentored by such amazing professionals? Here you can literally look up someone's name in the phone book and be talking to a top negotiator or business leader in Canada, and they want to talk to you -- where else can you do that?"

When asked about what's next, Dana has a list full of things that excite and energize, including assisting with organizing the upcoming Potlatch for the Residential School Survivor Totem Pole Raising in Masset, attending the 2012 Aboriginal Opportunities Forum in Vancouver and contributing to conversations on ways to improve community access to energy, social value and opportunity in the North.

Dana takes inspiration form the confidence of Haida Gwaii and from her own curiosity. "I love to see where things go, where a good idea can take you." 

April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies' Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada's North.

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