The People of Klemtu in the Great Bear Rainforest

"Telling It Like It Is"

Kitasoo/Xai Xais Hereditary Chief Charlie Mason lives his names. As Nismuutk - the Provider - he takes his responsibilities as fisherman and store keeper, feeding the people, very seriously. As Haymaas - who stands up front - he tells the stories of his clan, writes the songs and develops the dances that help keep the resurgent culture alive.

In March 2012 David received a phone call from fellow artist Mark Hobson inviting David to join a group of 50 artists visiting the Great Bear Rainforest in June. Mark had become increasingly concerned that the moratorium on oil tanker traffic along the British Columbia coast will be lifted if the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal is approved. The question to David was: would David be willing to travel to the Raincoast to talk to the people who would be impacted if there is an oil spill, and to paint them?

Having heard many stories about the fjords, changeable and challenging weather conditions and fragile ecosystems, David wanted to see first-hand the area the tankers would need to navigate safely. And, of course, to meet and listen to as many people as possible.

It turned out to be quite an adventure, beginning with a float plane flight from Vancouver to Bella Bella - that was a very short landing strip!

The next leg of the trip proved to be a six hour trip onboard the Achiever to the village of Klemtu. Funding for the project is partly provided by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation as well as generous support from First Nations communities, eco-tour operators, lodges, commercial vessels and other coastal businesses.

The Achiever is RCF's dedicated research vessel, a 70' steel hulled sloop. Their skipper, Brian Falconer, after 20 years exploring the coastline of BC and Alaska, was an invaluable fund of information about the waterways, sealife, flora and fauna. 15 Grey Whales were counted!

Arriving at Bella Bella

Onboard the Achiever with Skipper Brian Falconer

The village of Klemtu, on Swindle Island, has a population of about 450 amazing people of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation. They have not chosen an easy way of life and in many ways the life has chosen them. Growing from a population of 269 in 1983 and about 90% unemployment, the village has found new direction and not only grown but achieved a goal almost no other village, town or city can boast - virtually 100% employment. This group of amazing people were inspiring.

Klemtu is involved in eco-tourism, fish farming, selective logging, fishing and other activities that involve the whole community including the building of the village's Big House and, to house eco-tourists, Spirit Bear Lodge.

David was
fortunate to meet some amazing people on this trip and plans to return. He has begun a series of paintings based upon the people he met.


"Visions of the Future, Visions of the Past"

In Klemtu the Kitasoo/Xai Xais 1st Nation has achieved something remarkable. Here,  elected Chief Doug Neasloss represents the present and the future. It is a future built on an honoured past, represented by the hereditary Chief on the beach below.

"Passing on the Stories"

98 year old Violet is the sole surviving speaker of the South Tsimshian language and a living treasure house of myth and traditional  stories.

Jessie Housty (sketch below) is, at 25, the youngest member of the Council of the Heiltsuk First Nation. Working on her MA in literature, she has wisdom beyond her years - she told me 'This land is our identity, it is who we are. An oil spill would destroy it, and us, at a stroke.'