Made on Haida Gwaii: Strong communities working for environmental justice

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This is the sixth installment of the 'Made on Haida Gwaii' feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. Each week we 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.

"This was the best place to grow up," says Valine Crist, 27, who recently moved home to Haida Gwaii after spending ten years studying, working and traveling. "It was magnificent to spend weekends berry picking and camping," she continues, "Nothing can compare to the comforts and securities of Haida Gwaii."

Having earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Anthropology from the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, Valine will soon complete a Master's degree in Anthropology from the University of Victoria. Capturing the current realities faced by British Columbia's coastal communities, Valine's research is timely and cutting-edge. Her thesis examines how communities come together against threats of large-scale development projects.

Passionate about ecological sustainability and motivated to understand how people interact with the environment Valine notes that, "On Haida Gwaii we have a very strong connection to our home - understanding, appreciating and valuing this has influenced my identity and my values," she says.

Today, Valine works for the Council of the Haida Nation as a writer for Haida Laas and has helped to coordinate the Enbridge Joint Review Panel hearings on Haida Gwaii. When asked what are some lessons she'll take away from the process, Valine says, "Regardless of who you are or how long you've been here, people from Haida Gwaii are very passionate. I've also learned just how powerful an alliance of people can be, it's absolutely inspiring."

Motivated by her community to make a difference, Valine's experiences abroad have reinforced her work in environmental justice.

Valine spent time in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, exposing her to environmental and development concerns faced by Indigenous peoples worldwide.

"I visited communities affected by destructive resource extraction," she says. "In the Peruvian highlands, communities are losing access to their local water sources because of Canadian-owned mining companies, irresponsible waste management contaminating local agricultural areas and unsustainable logging. They're the same stories, different parts of the world," Valine explains.

When asked what drives her towards this work, Valine answers, "Humans continue to over-exploit our environments, we're exacerbating natural climate cycles and if we don't act, we place ourselves at risk of facing environmentally catastrophic events. That's not to say it's hopeless though," she asserts.

"Being aware of your ecological impacts - your carbon footprint, your water consumption - these are just some of the ways that you can start making a difference," says Valine.

But the way in which people create positive environmental change may differ based on a number of factors, including a person's economic, social and geographical realities.

Valine illustrates this by giving examples of differences between northern rural communities and bigger cities. "I use public transit in Victoria, but on Haida Gwaii I rely much more on my car. It's easier to recycle and buy 'eco-friendly' products in a city, but here at home eating locally and ethically is easier," she says.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to make positive changes.

Imagining Haida Gwaii in 50 years Valine sees renewable energy solutions, strategic water conservation and environmental stewardship as key to the Islands' role in increasing self-sufficiency. "We're in a very advantageous position to act as responsible stewards and lead by example; we have been doing this and we will continue," she says.


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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