From November 20-23, representatives of Canada’s 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region on the east coast of Vancouver Island came together for a national gathering hosted by Kwalikum and Snaw-naw-as First Nations. The 2018 Fall Gathering of the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association (CBRA) had two key objectives: Building ethical space between CBRA’s board of directors and Indigenous Circle, and developing a collective and strategic vision for this important national UNESCO network. With the gathering so close to home, the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region was well represented with Ahousaht elder Arlene Paul, board members Ashley Hawker and Cassandra Silverio, and CBT staff Rebecca (who serves as CBRA Chair), Laura and Colin all in attendance.
In a country as large as Canada, biosphere reserves are geographically, biologically, and culturally diverse, but all work toward achieving similar goals and addressing common challenges. CBRA’s 2018 Fall Gathering was designed for board members, staff, and Indigenous hosts of Canadian biosphere reserves to share knowledge, hear individual stories of struggle and success, and build trust. Truth, reconciliation and co-leadership with Indigenous Peoples are essential for Canada’s biosphere reserves to thrive with integrity.
The entire gathering was held in circle––large and small––allowing all 45 guests to speak and listen to each other. Participants learned about local First Nations customs around ceremony, such as welcome prayers, songs, dances, and gift-giving practices, making conscious space for Indigenous and western traditions of knowledge sharing to co-exist. Working in ethical space, a collective vision was communicated––a vision that will guide CBRA in its work to address national and global issues by supporting sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, and social justice.
Gord Johns, Member of Parliament, joined the gathering for one of the evenings and shared his sentiments:
Thanks to Snaw-naw-as First Nation for their warm welcome on Thursday during the CBRA Fall Gathering in their territory. We’re proud to have two biosphere reserves in Courtenay-Alberni and enjoy hosting the annual Biosphere Day on the Hill. Great comradery, food, dancing and singing. Congratulations both to the Nation and the CBRA for such a wonderful gathering and for such an important movement.
The CBT is grateful to have been a part of the gathering and participate in meaningful conversations about how CBRA (and the member Biosphere Organizations across the country) can grow in a direction driven by Indigenous perspectives and leadership.
CBRA’s new strategic plan will be launched in early 2019.