Discovering Sustainable Living on Vancouver Island
By Shiori Ohno (Department of English Language and Literature)
From March 18th to 25th 2019, I participated in the Vancouver Island Study Program, organized by professor Brenda Bushell (Department of English Language, Communication and Cultures). The objective of the program was for students to explore how sustainable society is practiced on Vancouver Island, and how they might make it a reality in our own lives.
Seven students participated in the program, including 1 senior, 4 juniors, and 2 sophomores. Professors Brenda Bushell and Yoshiyuki Nagata (Department of Education) led us.
Our first day was spent in Vancouver city, visiting various cultural and tourist areas, including Granville Island where there is a huge local market with various kinds of food that we rarely see in Japan. The next morning we set off by ferry for Vancouver Island where we spent the following 7 days. It is the largest island on the North American Pacific coast, and is equivalent to the size of Kyushu island (九州) in Japan. The forests and landscapes are well preserved on the island, so we could feel, find and enjoy nature around us.
Our home for our stay on the island was a place called the Salal, a farm with accommodation that provides workshops and programs centered around sustainable living. All the members of the Salal have unique and marvelous backgrounds, and more than that, they are all concerned about sustainability from various aspects, depending on their experiences and professions. The day we arrived they warmly welcomed us and showed us some of the sites on the farm. What impressed us the most was a beautifully designed labyrinth called the Edible Garden. It is a huge mandala-like maze that you can walk through while reflecting or meditating, and the plants, herbs and shrubs growing there are all edible. The first evening we were introduced to the island’s indigenous culture by one of the members of the Salal, who is a descendant of the indigenous people who originally lived and protected the land on the island. He invited us join in his drum circle, which is a traditional welcoming ceremony of the indigenous people.
Every day we were so active, spending most of our time out-of-doors in a variety of activities and workshops. When thinking of our physical sustainability, organic food is important to consider in order to avoid pesticides and toxins in our body. The “Healing Farm” is the place where we visited to learn how organic produce is grown without the use of chemicals. Everything on their farm is organic—from fruit trees to the chickens and eggs. Actually, they gave us some apples harvested last autumn so that we could experience the taste. They were rich in flavor, as if the apples were already bottled juice. We also visited O.U.R. ECOVILLAGE, a sustainable community consisting of 25 acres of land. The day we arrived was the 20th anniversary of the community. One of the interesting points was that what we saw there, including eco houses, eco toilets, gardens, etc., were built or created by the community members. We could find a truly sustainable environment on their large parcel of land.
While on the island, we learned that sustainability does not only relate to the people who live in the present day, but also about how we preserve the history made by our ancestors. Like any other country, Canada has a dark history, too. Before the Europeans conquered North America, the land used to be settled by indigenous people. In the 19th century, the Canadian government set policies for indigenous assimilation, which restricted indigenous traditions and their rights. Children were forcefully taken to residential schools run by churches and forbidden to use their original language. Many indigenous tribes were forced to give up their original land and move to small plots of land called “reserves.” We visited Tsartlip First Nation reserve and met and talked with people of all ages. They invited us to join their spiritual and energetic drum circle. We felt very welcomed through their singing and drum beats.
On the final two days, we set out to towns to explore urban living and what life is like on weekends there. Since it was spring holiday, we saw many families enjoying their vacation. As it seems to be popular in the area, we enjoyed cycling for about 4 hours, which is an ecofriendly way of tourism. We also visited the city of Victoria and interviewed people living in “floating homes,” which are small houses floating on the water. Their residence area is called Fisherman’s Warf, and the area itself is also a popular tourist destination. The people we interviewed said that they chose to live there because they wanted to minimize their lifestyle.
Reflections on the Study Program
For me, this study tour was one of the greatest adventures of my life, and it played a big role in my personal growth. The world today takes economy as the priority amongst everything, and this prospect leads to environmental issues and unnecessary destruction of nature. At the Salal we had some lectures on land stewardship—the practice of managing and restoring land to its natural state. We learned that we are now living in the age of Anthropocene. Anthropocene is a term to describe the era of “human-centered world,” begun from the time of the Industrial Revolution during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. (As an illustration, plastic is something we consume daily, but plastic is a material that never goes back to earth, and all recycled plastic is of low quality, using up resources and in the end, polluting our environment.)
Thinking about how our lifestyle and how it has impacted the environment is depressing; however, I can tell you that there are people who actually take action to preserve what we already have, to improve the situation with approaches, depending on what skills and talent they have. The people we met on Vancouver Island are my models. They have the strength, passion and patience to accomplish their goals to make the world a better place. The time with them taught me that there’s no need to rush in whatever you want to accomplish. Taking time to think, reflect, relax and meditate will help you to take a greater step forward.
On the last night at the Salal, we were privileged to join the last ceremony of the drum circle. The host of this ceremony gave us several chances to share what we learned through our program, and I said that “connection” was what I learned through my experiences on the Island. We are all connected to the world, to people, their culture, nature, and the three pillars for sustainable development: environment, society and economy. This study tour was a great reminder for me to think how I am connected to the world, and that is why we need to take action as a new generation to make changes in a sustainable way, to preserve the “connection.”