What does it take for Canada’s Aboriginals to succeed?

The ongoing plight of Canada’s Aboriginal people is often in the news. 

While tales of poverty, abuse and other social and economic hardships typically dominate headlines, I am always encouraged to hear stories of Aboriginal success, for in these examples I believe there is hope for a better future for all Aboriginals – and indeed, all Canadians.

Recently, I had the good fortune of publishing just such an inspiring story. And this one touched me personally, because it was centered on Klemtu, a village I had visited nearly 30 years ago, and where my eyes were first opened to some of the complex issues facing indigenous people.

It was 1985. I was 21 years old, and working as a recruitment officer for the federal youth volunteer program, Katimavik. My employer sent me to this remote community on British Columbia’s central coast in response to a request by Klemtu’s elders. In Katimavik they saw a potential way for their young people to safely explore Canada and expand their horizons. 

Making the 500-km journey from Vancouver to this tiny village north of Bella Bella involved switching planes three times, each one consecutively smaller. Finally, aboard a “Goose” – a flying boat – we splashed down in Klemtu. 

I had never been to a remote First Nations community before, and this one was way out there – a few hundred people living in the middle of the now famous Great Bear Rainforest. I was in awe. Densely treed mountains rose from the waterfront; bald eagles snatched salmon from the ocean and giant ravens called out from their perches atop towering evergreens. It was breathtaking.

The little fishing village was modest and roughly hewn, but the greeting I received was warm and genuine. 

Through my ensuing conversations with local elders, I quickly learned why I had been invited here. Too often, Aboriginal youth who tried to make the leap from communities like this one to Canada’s big cities found themselves quickly marginalized and drifting on the fringes of society, with all the risks that entailed. 

Through Katimavik’s safe, structured program, Klemtu’s youth had a chance to join other young Canadians working together as volunteers in communities across the nation. It was a great fit.

Flash forward nearly 30 years, and I found myself revisiting Klemtu, this time through the eyes of writer John Zada. 

I had hired John to cover a story for onBoard magazine, a travel and lifestyle publication we created for BC Ferries on behalf of The Globe and Mail’s Custom Content Group.

John, who writes for The Globe, CBC News and other publications, had recently travelled through B.C.’s central coast and told me about an innovative eco-cultural lodge that had sprung up in none other than Klemtu.

It turned out that in the decades since my visit, Klemtu had fallen on hard times, partially as a result of B.C.’s dwindling fishery and forestry industries. 

In an attempt to buck this downward trend and capitalize on the Great Bear Rainforest’s growing appeal as a tourism destination, village entrepreneurs had opened Spirit Bear Lodge. Building the lodge was one thing; turning it into a success took perseverance – and the courage to hire some expertise from outside of Klemtu.

Today, as John’s story conveys, Spirit Bear Lodge’s reputation as a truly unique destination resort continues to grow. Perhaps more important, it is one of B.C.’s most talked about First Nations success stories.

In my view, that’s an achievement for all Canadians to celebrate.

To read John’s story in onBoard magazine, please click here: http://therac.ca/.