‘Healing garden’ nourishes Aboriginal Vancouverites

Original story, including multimedia, available here
By Fabiola Carletti and Lewis Kelly

Skulsh remembers growing his first cauliflower in 2005.

Growing a cauliflower can bring childlike joy to a grown man’s face. At least, it did for John Skulsh, who still talks about the first vegetable he’d ever grown.

“I lifted it up,” said Skulsh, who hails from the Gitxsan Nation. “What a feeling that was! You know, the only time I’d picked up cauliflower was from Safeway, wrapped in cellophane.”

Skulsh is among the many residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who steward the Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden, a half-acre of fertile land at the UBC farm. The project aims to shrink the distance between the garden and the grocery store, while celebrating Aboriginal traditions around food in the context of the city.

For many involved, this means cultivating a more direct relationship with what they eat—a process that can begin at any age.

“Even some of the seniors didn’t know how things like radish grew,” said Cathy Goupil, a seasoned gardener from the L’il’wat Nation, “They’d never seen one without a rubber band.”

Goupil is one of the garden’s founding matriarchs, affectionately called the grannies, who have worked with the project from its beginning in 2005.

Since then, roughly 500 people have spent time at the garden. Some actively work on small projects while others visit for large celebratory feasts, like the Blessing of the Land.

Waking up indigenous knowledge

On a Monday afternoon, many local goods were scattered around the farm’s indoor kitchen table, where a small group of community members talked, laughed and worked together to prepare a meal.

Granny Goupil explained the healing benefits of XwU’sum (pronounced “hoshum”). It is a traditional berry-based drink that strengthens the immune system and cleanses the body.

Louis Joseph, a Native Elder from the Tlowitsis Nation, had handpicked the blackberries in the salad dressing. Rob Morgan, a Gitxsan Downtown Eastside resident, had carried in a bucket of freshly harvested herbs from the nearby garden.

“We wake up old traditions and indigenous knowledge systems,” said Project Coordinator Mary Holmes, “and we find a place for them both at the university and within the larger community.”

Aboriginal culture in the city

The garden plot belongs to the Musqueam Nation, who shares the space with other Aboriginal people in Vancouver.

“Access to land is a huge issue for First Nations folk living in the city,” said Holmes.

Nearly half of all Aboriginal Canadians now live in urban centers, according to new study by the Environics Institute. Its research shows that many indigenous city dwellers see the city as “a venue for creative development of Aboriginal culture” and roughly 60 per cent feel they can maintain cultural ties in an urban setting.

Volunteer chefs prepare all the food in the kitchen.

The study highlights Vancouver as a city in which “residents are both more aware of Aboriginal cultural activities in their city and participate in them more frequently.”

Community members at the garden learn about each other’s traditions. They sit down and talk about what to plant, what to eat, and how to cook the meal itself.

“There are very different ways to prepare clam chowder,” said volunteer and UBC student Jocelyn Greer. “Trying to find a happy medium is very interesting to watch, but it always turns out delicious in the end.”

Seeds of change

Community members bring all kinds of skills and struggles to the table.

Residential school survivors, the mentally ill, and troubled youth, for instance, find out about the program through its parent organization, the Vancouver Native Health Society, and its community partners.

Skulsh came to program through the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. To him, the garden is a sanctuary.

“All you see is trees surrounding you,” he said, “You don’t see the hustle and bustle of the Downtown Eastside…No drugs, no alcohol.”

In this space, many people plant the seeds of change.

“It is a healing garden,” said Skulsh, “Being out there clears your mind, makes you energized, makes you happy.”

Get inside the kitchen

Recipe for organic bannock, courtesy of Mary Holmes

Watch the kitchen in action, narrated by John Skulsh

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The Deepest Wilderness: UBC student was a ‘missing person’

Originally posted at the blog: Secret Lives of UBC students

Robert Singley, PhD candidate in composition at the UBC School of Music

There’s something wrong with Glastenbury Mountain, at least according to local lore in Bennington, Vermont.

Many people, especially watchers of the paranormal, have ominous theories about that stretch of the Appalachian Trail. A number of people are said to have gone missing there.

But none of this fazed Robert Singley, a PhD candidate at UBC, who used to hike the trail when he lived in Bennington. That is, until the day he too got lost in the woods.

Two years ago, while hiking back to his car, Singley became disoriented.

“I still think I was sucked through some sort of time space continuum,” said the composer, who channels his long hikes into creative impetuses for his music.

“All I know is that it got dark. It got foggy,” he said, adding that head lamp he’d brought with him wasn’t working. “I followed the trail for as long as I could see it, but then I lost the trail and I was totally alone in the woods.”

As his girlfriend worried at home, Singley struggled to find his way out of an area with an eerie reputation.

Some call it Bennington’s triangle, a reference to the mysterious Bermuda triangle. Others tell tales of a Bennington monster. And still others refer to Native American stories of rocks that swallow people up in this place where the four winds meet.

Regardless of which stories Singley believed, if any, there was no doubt he was in for an unusual night.

Robert examines the type of wood that "saved his life." Photo by Frank Singley

Next came the rain. The young American’s attempts to make a fire became futile and he eventually lay down from exhaustion.

“Later I started to shiver and I knew I was starting to get hypothermia,” said Singley. He got back up and started to look for kindling. Instead he was alarmed to find animal bones.

But somehow, in this precarious situation, Singley found a way to calm himself.

Listen to Robert Singley explain what was going through his head that night, and why he turned it into music:
An excerpt of his wilderness-inspired string quartet [audio here]

In the end, Singley managed to survive the night–largely thanks to finding a birch tree with highly flammable bark and coming up with wilderness-inspired musical ideas. In the morning, he ran into police that had been searching for him, and the local newspaper featured his story as an escape from danger.

But Singley heard his experience differently: “It was a magical experience, quite life affirming,” he has written.

In fact, in his work as a composer, he has tapped into the “non-directionality” he felt that night, creating music that is not heading in any direction–as in Escher’s staircase–and that values the journey as a series of individual steps.

“Getting lost really solidified these ideas for me, of just being happy wherever you are.”


Diving among dugongs: UBC student helps protect threatened species in Palau

Originally posted at the blog: Secret Lives of UBC students

Sarah Klain, Grad student at UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability

Sarah Klain had been out swimming when she saw a massive gray shape in the corner of her eye. She almost gagged on her snorkel when she realized what it was.

“It was a dugong. It swam toward me and looked me right in the eye,” said Klain, joking that the large marine mammal had resembled a fat mermaid, smiling at her before swimming away.

“But that’s anthropomorphizing it,” Klain quickly corrected herself.

Her inner scientist appeared in such qualifiers, even as she excitedly told me stories from Palau, a Pacific Island nation where she lived from 2005 to 2007.

Klain currently studies marine resources, including their social dimensions, at UBC–but the young American still has vivid memories of her two years in Palau. She had gone there to work as a Peace Corps volunteer, aiding in the conservation of a special trio of aquatic creatures.

Beside dugongs, Klain was also focused on saltwater crocodiles and sea turtles. She worked very closely with crocodile hunter-turned-conservationist Joshua Eberdong to collect data and talk to Palauans about the protection of those species.

“They just don’t bounce back as quickly,” said Klain. She explained that the rise of industrial fishing and the expansion of the human population has meant that the relationship between people and animals has started to change. And sustainable use, she said, is tricky with species like sea turtles and dugong that take a long time to reach maturity.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Klain

Location matters: In places like Northern Australia, there is a sustainable harvest of dugong due to their healthy numbers–but not in Palau, where the “sea cows” are a threatened species protected by law. When clarifying the island’s unique ecological situation, Klain also explained that she had to navigate the norms of her host community.

“Unfortunately dugongs are really tasty,” explained Klain. “That was a very sensitive complex part of the work that I did. These endangered animals had been food for hundreds of years.”

But Klain learned a lot from such negotations, and she feels lucky to have benefited from what she considers extraordinary local knowledge from islanders like Joshua. She has carefully documented her lessons in pictures, print and in a detailed slide show.

Her concluding words paint an evocative picture: “My thoughts often drift back to my home for two years, where sea turtles crawl ashore on beaches lit only by the moon, crocodiles hunt crabs and fish in the mangroves, and dugongs graze on sea grass.”

Listen to Sarah Klain describe her role in a “sea turtle rodeo
at the end of the original post

Elephant scales Wall: UBC student struggles to keep up with a giant

Originally posted at the blog: Secret Lives of UBC students

Jake Wall PhD Candidate, UBC Department of Geography

Jake Wall jolted awake, struggling to free himself from a nonexistent mosquito net. It was the latest in a series of bizarre dreams, but his reality was no less surreal. He was, after all, in the middle of the Kaisut Desert in Kenya, resting alongside a quintet of stubborn camels.

Back in Vancouver, nearly two years after his journey, I sat down with Wall to find out what had motivated the PhD candidate to cross lava rocks, drink from recycled cooking-oil containers, and risk daily encounters with deadly puff adders.

His reason was simple: It was the only way he, as an elephant conservationist, could see the world from the perspective of his study subject.

It had all started with Shadrak, a solitary bull elephant that was being tracked by Wall and his colleagues at the non-profit group Save the Elephants. Shadrak was special: In 2007, he’d traversed a 208km stretch in five days, thereby completing the longest elephant streak on record. After that, his satellite collar had gone dead and he’d disappeared off the face of Google Earth.

“We thought it would be really cool to follow that path,” said Wall. He wanted to get past the “GPS crumbs” and, on the one-year anniversary of the streak, follow the trail and maybe even find Shadrak. Wall worked with David Daballen, a Samburu researcher with Save the Elephants, to plan a journey of unprecedented scale in the field.

Photo courtesy of Jake Wall.

“As the leader of that trip I was really concerned with safety,” said Wall, who was accompanied by an eight-person motley crew of camel tenders, local guides, security guards and journalists. The group had planned to walk in the elephant’s exact path and at his pace.

What Wall didn’t know was that Shadrak’s five-day journey would end up taking his group nearly two weeks, that their food and water supplies would run dangerously low, and that their four-legged companions wouldn’t always want to stay the course.

“The camels would get spooked at night,” Wall explained, adding that his equipment carriers were prone to both “freaking out” and scheduling their own breaks. The journalists from Adventure Magazine documented such moments in print and photographs as Wall collected detailed and unique scientific data.

Despite the difficulties, Wall believes the trip was worth it. He doesn’t take for granted his ability to walk elephant corridors that may one day cease to exist.

“Elephants in Marsabit number around 350, and it’s looking more and more like their habit will disappear,” Wall said. He explained that human population is quickly expanding and squeezing out the elephant’s migratory routes. Although the challenges continue, researchers like Wall will keep working to make sure the world talks about the elephants in the room.

Listen to Jake Wall describe the day he finally met Shadrak, the bull elephant. Available at the end of the original post.


UBC students disengaged from rezoning row

The Ubyssey has given front page coverage to the rezoning issue

Allie Slemon, a fifth year English student at the University of British Columbia, was surprised to find a strongly worded email from President Stephen Toope in her inbox.

Toope warned of Metro Vancouver’s proposal to regulate academic lands on the Vancouver campus. He said this would be “devastating” to academic freedom and could put a “choke hold” on the university’s future.

Currently, Greater Vancouver’s governing body, known as Metro Vancouver, has the power to regulate family housing property on campus while UBC maintains control over its academic lands.

In November, the city proposed to extend its power to include academic and non-residential buildings through a contentious new zoning bylaw.

The university administration sees this as an invasive threat, while the city maintains it is an overdue update.

Rezoning would change decision-making at the university’s highest levels. But students interviewed said they feel disconnected from the debate surrounding Metro Vancouver’s technical and lengthy proposal, especially if they aren’t already engaged in campus politics.

Toope’s passionate email was not the ideal primer for Slemon.

“In universities we’re taught to read and think critically and to receive this email from the president was kind of an affront to that,” she said. She would have preferred to receive unbiased information that would let her form her own opinion.

Changing face of UBC

Metro Vancouver argues that UBC cannot continue as the sole and unelected supervisor of the use of its academic lands.

“Let me put it in clear terms: we’re not prepared to continue with the status quo,” said Derek Corrigan, the mayor of Burnaby, on behalf of Metro Vancouver.

He argued that the way UBC is run leaves the city in a situation where they are “responsible for things [they’re] not actually in control of.”

“When you chose to have 6000 people living in the neighbourhood, UBC changed, and you have to accept the reality of that,” said Corrigan, addressing UBC administrators at a recent meeting.

The city’s rezoning proposals closely follow the October release of the final draft of the UBC Vancouver Campus plan, which will effectively guide development and decision-making on UBC’s academic lands for the next decade and beyond.

The Ubyssey, the official student paper, has been covering the re-zoning issue since Metro Vancouver first announced its intentions.

It published four big articles in the paper, including a full-colour front page story complete with an eye-catching robot.

Still, news editor Samantha Jung admits the paper has had next to no response, especially from students who do not have official ties to organized groups.

The timing of the rezoning row is awkward. As well as cramming for exams, most students are preoccupied with the plight of a different president at UBC.

Continue reading here…

UBC seeks to tap rain as renewable resource

Posted by Fabiola Carletti on Oct 29th, 2009 and filed under Environment at thethunderbird.ca

A sea of umbrellas at UBC

A sea of umbrellas at UBC

Curtis Ballard rushed to fasten plywood between parking curbs as rain cascaded down Wesbrook Mall. The water runoff streamed toward TRIUMF, the laboratory for particle and nuclear physics at UBC.

“The water outside eventually rose to our knees,” said Ballard, TRIUMF’s operations manager, who worked with personnel from the lab and the physical plant to clear catch basins and set up dewatering pumps.

Although the water from the flash flood seeped into offices and damaged flooring, the group’s work spared a nearby laser lab filled with high precision equipment. They now refer to it as the great flood of 2009.

Such temperamental tales become lore at the University of British Columbia, which sits on the outskirts of rainy Vancouver.

The project team behind Campus and Community Planning know the challenges of managing stormwater, but are also creating policy that may channel it into opportunity.

The planners are entering the final phase of drafting the UBC Vancouver Campus plan, the guiding document for the next 20 years of property development. Taping the copious amount of rainwater, a renewable resource, is finally on the agenda.

Read more…