Speak to the Wild meeting attracts distinguished participants

Speak to the Wild, a conference that saw some of Canada’s best known thinkers gather in the Upper Clearwater Hall

Some of the participants in the Speak to the Wild conference take a moment to relax together. Pictured are (l-r) Upper Clearwater naturalist Trevor Goward

Some of the participants in the Speak to the Wild conference take a moment to relax together. Pictured are (l-r) Upper Clearwater naturalist Trevor Goward

“It had to be by far the most distinguished group of people we’ve had in our Valley. The people of Clearwater and indeed Canada will be hearing about our resolutions in the weeks and months to come.”

That was the assessment of Upper Clearwater naturalist Trevor Goward following Speak to the Wild, a conference that saw some of Canada’s best known thinkers, writers, scientists and poets gather in the Upper Clearwater Hall and visit Wells Gray Park.

The conference began on Wednesday evening, Sept. 4 and ended on Sunday morning, Sept. 8.

About 60 people attended, coming from as far away as Austria, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.

Theme of the conference was the development of a land ethic for Canada, said Goward.

This would tie in with a campaign the David Suzuki Foundation is about to lead that calls for enshrining the right to a healthy environment in the Canadian constitution.

The checks and balances in our present political system are not working, Goward felt. Such a constitutional amendment would limit the powers of governments and corporations to damage the environment.

“This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have mining or logging,” he said. “Things need to be kept in proportion. The rights of Canadians are being trampled on and the rights of other species are being trampled on.”

The mountain caribou is an emblem of what is going on, he said. Wells Gray Park is the last longterm hope for the species, and if the mountain caribou cannot be saved, then there is little hope for other, less charismatic species.

Highlights of the conference included British Columbian ethnobotanist Nancy Turner speaking about kincentricity, which means swearing allegiance to other creatures and giving them the  respect we give other people.

Another was two presentations from American cultural ecologist David Abrams that started and ended the conference. Abrams was unable to attend due to health reasons, but his presentations were summarized by Canadian philosopher Jan Zwicky, who gave a crash course in western philosophy along the way.

David Boyd of University of Victoria, a world authority on land ethics and having rights for nature enshrined in constitutions, also was unable to attend. However, he sent a video that compared what is being done in Canada with initiatives in other countries.

The last speaker, Sharon Butala, had many of the audience in tears as she spoke about her connection to her home place in Saskatchewan.

Goward said representatives of Simpcw First Nation were invited but none were able to attend. However, Joan E. Morris (Sellemah) of Songhees Nation near Nanaimo made sure a First Nation perspective was heard. At one point in the windup she chided the gathering for not reaching a consensus.

“This is bull s–t,” she said.

The overwhelming feeling of those attending was that there should be more Talk to the Wild conferences, Goward said, and that they should be in Upper Clearwater. Many would like the next gathering to be held next spring, but Goward said he was not sure he would have the time to organize it.

“In the next few months, the people of Canada will be asked what kind of Canada they want to live in,” Goward said. “It’s the people who should be pushing, not the leaders.”

Speak to the Wild was a Wells Gray World Heritage Year event. The next event on the calendar will be Mostly Mosses with Curtis Bjork and others on Sept. 28.