• The Haida believe that we came from the ocean and that we will one day return to the waters, and this became evident in my short time on the archipelago. (Photo: Chúk Odenigbo)

Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae. “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”

Even in the conceptualization of this country, Canada, the ocean was an important consideration. Its entire existence is predicated on the connections between the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic. Canada is the only country in the world that, unified, touches three oceans, yet the majority of us have never seen the Canadian ocean. We live in cities and towns in the south, bordering the United States, along rivers and streams and creeks and lakes. We are children of the ocean who have never met the ocean. We have some of the largest water reserves on earth, both under and above ground. We are the ocean, yet we know not who we are, so we went to people who did.

Being amongst the Ocean Bridge cohort was a magical experience. I am an Albertan and I currently live in Québec. Rivers have always been a part of my existence — the Bow River in Calgary and now the Saint Lawrence River in Montréal. I have seen the ocean on trips to British Columbia, Nova Scotia, the Dominican Republic, Mauritius and Japan. But instead of seeing the ocean as a part of my family, it was a stranger to me. A stranger I was happy to meet, but a stranger nonetheless.

So imagine me, an urbanite from a landlocked province, heading to a remote island off the coast of British Columbia, to an area with no cell reception, no internet and very little running water. I was incredibly nervous and very much outside my comfort zone, but I felt like it was an experience I needed to have. Ocean acidification and microplastics saddened me, but in my mind, there were more pressing issues. I am eternally grateful for this trip that taught me otherwise.

We all met at the airport in Vancouver, ready to head off to Sandspit, one of the towns in Haida Gwaii. It was a wondrous moment, meeting people I had been talking to online and seeing in group conversations for many weeks. As we journeyed towards what would be our home for 10 days, we started getting to know each other, breaking into groups of conversation on the plane, on the ferry, on the bus, and it felt like the start of something new.

Upon arriving, we were quickly introduced to various members of the community. We met councilmen, kids, teens, who each shared something with us, whether it be their story, or a song, or a skill unique to their clan, or their Haida name. It was a beautiful way to get things started as we shared in return. We went on hikes, completed beach cleanups, took immersion courses in the Haida language, chatted with elders, spoke with locals, visited sacred places. Every day was spent exploring, doing something new and learning.

It was during this period that I recognised the ocean as a long lost ancestor in my life. The Haida believe that we came from the ocean and that we will one day return to the waters, and this became evident in my short time on the archipelago. Whether or not we were able to do any planned activity was up to the ocean. If the waves were too choppy, we could not visit any other islands, if the weather was too bad we could not be outdoors. If the ocean said no, we could not do it. There was no way around this. And it was incredible.

Furthermore, the links between the ocean and culture/food became increasingly clear. The Haida language has an estimated 54 words that can only be translated to “wave” in English. That kind of precision only comes about from a seafaring people. They go clamming, they eat crab, every fish in their waters is named.

I lived with the ocean for 10 days, and in those 10 days, I realized I live with the ocean every day of my life. Through forming that personal link with this key aspect of the Canadian environment, I cared more. The acidification of the ocean, the metaphorical and literal islands of plastic, the loss of fish and biodiversity, it now meant something to me. It hit me that in Haida Gwaii, they see the negative effects of pollution and climate change on the ocean firsthand, but the rest of us feel it.

Now, inspired by Haida Gwaii, I want to help other Canadians reconnect with the ocean, realize its importance and fight for it. A mari usque ad mare. From sea to sea.

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”
― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
 

Read more Ocean Bridge Diaries