Lo­cal Hero

Af­ter lead­ing the restora­tion of a na­tive plant gar­den in the eastern Fraser Val­ley, Coastal Sal­ish painter, mu­si­cian and con­ser­va­tion­ist Car­rielynn Vic­tor uses it to in­spire lo­cal kids

Canadian Wildlife - - NEWS - Text and Pho­tog­ra­phy by Is­abelle Groc

Af­ter lead­ing the restora­tion of a na­tive plant gar­den in Bri­tish Columbia’s eastern Fraser Val­ley, Car­rielynn Vic­tor uses it to in­spire lo­cal kids

IN THE SPRING­TIME, THE CHEAM WET­LAND food and medicine gar­den, in B.C.’S Eastern Fraser Val­ley, comes alive. Bald ea­gles soar in the sky, north­ern red-legged frogs and north­west­ern sala­man­ders lay eggs in the ponds, bees buzz in the fields, flow­ers are in bloom. This is artist Car­rielynn Vic­tor’s favourite time of the year to take lo­cal school­child­ren on field trips in the gar­den, awak­en­ing their senses to the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, and nur­tur­ing their con­nec­tion to lo­cal species at risk. “I ask the kids to open up their senses, slow down, feel where they are, be ob­ser­vant,” she says. “I of­fer them to taste some­thing, be brave and taste it, touch things but be gen­tle, walk softly be­cause this place is alive.”

The Coast Sal­ish painter, mu­si­cian and prac­ti­tioner of tra­di­tional foods and medicine lives in Cheam, her fa­ther’s an­ces­tral vil­lage in the tra­di­tional Sto:lo ter­ri­tory, in the shadow of Mount Cheam, on the banks of the Fraser River near Chilli­wack. Vic­tor, who also works for a First Na­tions-owned en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sult­ing group, de­vel­oped a spe­cial con­nec­tion to species at risk from an early age, nur­tured by her grand­mother, who served as a strong com­mu­nity voice for con­ser­va­tion in the re­gion. She re­mem­bers playing out­side as a child and catch­ing frogs. “We had the free­dom to run around, look for what caught our in­ter­est and make those ob­ser­va­tions,” she says. These mem­o­ries have since be­come part of Vic­tor’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion work as an adult. “When I am out do­ing species sur­veys and I catch a glimpse of a frog, it wakes that same part of you.”

Ed­u­cat­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of con­ser­va­tion­ists is Vic­tor’s pri­or­ity, and the Cheam gar­den is the cen­tre­piece of her ef­forts. “We have good con­ver­sa­tions in the gar­den with the kids about our re­spon­si­bil­ity as stew­ards of the en­vi­ron­ment be­cause one day they will be mak­ing de­ci­sions and I want them to be in­formed from an early age so it be­comes part of their val­ues,” she says. “Ed­u­ca­tion and con­nec­tion to the land are go­ing to be key parts to­wards con­ser­va­tion.”

Vic­tor spent three years lead­ing the restora­tion of the habi­tat at the Cheam gar­den, an ef­fort sup­ported by the fed­er­ally funded Abo­rig­i­nal Fund for Species at Risk pro­gram. With the help of vol­un­teers and school stu­dents, Vic­tor got rid of in­va­sive black­ber­ries and planted 1,400 na­tive plants. To­day the re­stored gar­den is home to 16 listed species at risk.

This rich en­vi­ron­ment is the op­por­tu­nity for Vic­tor to re­mind chil­dren of the an­ces­tral re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and species. “Ev­ery species — whether they are a plant or an an­i­mal — has a way of speak­ing to us about how we can be in con­nec­tion with the land,” she says. For ex­am­ple, chil­dren learn to ob­serve how drag­on­flies move and the dif­fer­ent worlds they can ac­cess through their move­ments. They learn to con­sider tree frogs as a cal­en­dar for the change in sea­sons. “Through their awak­e­ness and their sleep­ing time, frogs teach us to let things go. They teach us to move be­tween the sea­sons as the sea­sons come,” Vic­tor says.

But the real stars of the gar­den are the In­dige­nous food and medic­i­nal plants Vic­tor planted. Their qui­eter, less charis­matic na­ture means they are of­ten over­looked, and Vic­tor hopes to change that. “Kids walk with the un­der­stand­ing that they can go in any en­vi­ron­ment they want for plea­sure and they don’t even think about tram­pling plants. But when they come to the gar­den, I in­tro­duce them to the his­tory, the value and the po­ten­tial for re­la­tion­ships with the plants. Plants are alive and can be part of us.”

The value of plants in the gar­den ex­tends be­yond school­child­ren to the broader com­mu­nity the gar­den serves. “In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties rec­og­nize that their wild spa­ces are be­ing di­min­ished by devel­op­ment, and the con­cept of the gar­den is rec­og­nized as a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion for ac­cess­ing much needed In­dige­nous plants for food and medicine,” she says.

“I love the gar­den. I love what’s hap­pen­ing here. Some of the plants we wished for just showed up and did their own thing. We see bear and deer tracks, signs of beavers and all the lit­tle crea­tures hap­pen­ing here. Maybe it’s good enough for them. If we can help with that, I’m happy.”


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