by Rhiannon Moore
I believe in stories. Everything has a story, and this is something that Haida Gwaii and its people have taught me. The earth has a story, the forest has a story, the salmon have a story, and communities have stories. Each story is complex and intertwined. Stories are told through science and voices. They are hidden in ancient carvings and between the pages of textbooks. They can be revealed through sacred dance and the lens of a microscope. Knowledge is knowledge, whether it’s through a university lecture, or through listening to our Elders. Stories are what make us. Here is one of my stories.
I attended the Haida Gwaii Semester in Natural Resource Studies 2013. I remember applying immediately after hearing about it in one of my University tutorials—I just had that gut instinct. The fact that I would have to fly across the continent to what most would consider to be a remote island was totally my thing. My parents of course thought I was crazy, and I think my academic advisor thought I was too. But it felt like something deep inside of me was drawing me to this little magical island like a magnet.
It would be an understatement to say that the adventure-packed months on Haida Gwaii impacted my life. Looking at where I am now, and the way I have carved the river of my own life is because of my time there. I think my most valuable experience on Haida Gwaii was the feeling I had of being my “best self”. I had never felt so full of inspiration and passion and knowledge and wonder! Now that I know this feeling of my best self, I strive to build a life where I can feel like this again. I started painting when I was on Haida Gwaii because I felt inspired by the nature around me, and I have never stopped. A year after leaving Haida Gwaii I started my own “on the side” art business, where I donate a large portion of my sales to environmental programs. I also wrote and illustrated a children’s book for SHIP (the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program), which was translated by Haida Elders and published as a way to restore the Haida Language. My art is now a huge part of my identity and I am grateful that I re-discovered this part of myself that winter.
Attending HGHES has also helped me professionally. It has not only added a unique aspect to my resume, but it’s been a catalyst to my career in coastal conservation. I worked on Vancouver Island at Pacific Rim National Park for two seasons, teaching others about the interconnectivity of coastal ecosystems and encouraging them to explore the area. By my second season at Pacific Rim, I was head over heels for the ocean and intertidal zone and used every day off work to learn as much as I could. I volunteered at the Ukee catch and release aquarium, completed sea star surveys with Strawberry Island Marine Research Society, and eventually started my own marine debris collection project. I became totally obsessed (and of course devastated) with the amount of plastics that existed along the shoreline, and spent countless hours hunched over on the beach in the rain picking up tiny pieces of plastic like a soggy lunatic. I eventually macgyvered my own sifting system using a kitchen splatter guard and bucket, which many curious beach goers questioned me about and wondered why I was doing such an odd thing on my day off.
Although I am back in Ontario and miss the ocean dearly, I’m focussing my efforts on freshwater systems, which equally need my help. I have a full-time job as a Coastal Outreach Specialist, where I am leading a microplastics reduction campaign along Lake Huron. I recently spoke at the Coastal Zone Canada Conference about marine debris and plastic pollution and I’ve completed 5 shoreline cleanups in 2 months. What I’m saying is… I’m only 23 years old and get paid to do what I used to do for fun, and I have HGHES to thank for this!
**Note from the staff: check out Rhiannon’s art at www.teahousestudios.com !