Let’s Talk Science volunteers experience Koeye Culture and Science Camp off central BC coast

Let’s Talk Science partners with organizations across Canada who have a similar focus – to increase science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) literacy among Canadian youth. In August of 2015, Let’s Talk Science volunteers joined with Raincoast Conservation Foundation) on a voyage to Koeye River, a remote First Nations community on British Colombia’s central coast, to help facilitate and participate at the Koeye Culture and Science Camp camp run for local youth. Let’s Talk Science has been taking part in this venture for many years in the past through Let’s Talk Science at the University of Victoria. The following blog was written by research associate Marlie van Roy and Science Outreach Communicator Lori Waters of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and retells the story of the crews week at camp.


Raincoast week at Koeye
Marlie van Roy and Lori Waters; all photos by Rosie Child

Koeye CampersEvery August, a group of Raincoasters migrate to the remote Koeye River (Kvai in Heiltsuk First Nation language, pronounced ‘Kway’) in Heiltsuk Territory on what is now also referred to as BC’s central coast. There, we spend a week volunteering as resource staff at the Koeye Culture and Science Camp run by the Heiltsuk Nation`s Qqs Projects Society (pronounced Cuks). Supported by Let’s Talk Science, we facilitate ecology- and conservation-based activities, both on land and on board Raincoast’s research vessel Achiever. In addition to our science-based games, the campers are immersed in cultural programs delivered by their Heiltsuk counsellors and elders

This year our group consisted of Captain Brian Falconer, First Mate Rosie Child, Lori Waters, Marlie Van Roy, and Katie Davidson. It was a full crew, and a perfect mix of those who have been attending Koeye for years, and those for whom it was a first-time experience. Returning to camp is like returning to family—something to look forward to each year.

Campers were split into groups, with alternating sessions of one group going out on Achiever, and the other staying on land for forest-based activities. On land we focused on sensory activities: seeing the forest like an animal. We played name games, cooperation games at the “web” (a large web made of string between trees through which the kids had to get their entire team without touching the string—this involved a lot of gymnastics and laughter!), a ‘ninja’ stalking game, as well as a blindfolded partner walk through the forest to touch objects and try to describe them (a banana slug was a favourite!). We had silent time in the forest, where we asked the campers to listen to their surroundings.

We also brought equipment and supplies to aid our teaching. We showed them Raincoast’s wolf hide (obtained from a roadkill incident in the Rockies), looked at various cast animal tracks and scat, as well as tracks on the beach (which was great, as we had a couple of grizzly bears visit during our time there - one older bear, and one young bear who still had his natal collar). We also made and handed out track plates for the campers to place strategically in the forest (and luckily, little mouse visitors left tiny tracks in each track plate for the campers to take home!). Of course, a week at Koeye camp wouldn’t be complete without a game of “Koeye”, which is just as enjoyable for us Raincoasters as for the campers; it is basically an accelerated fast paced game of hide-and-seek in the forest.

AchieverAboard Achiever, thanks to Captain Brian and First Mate Rosie, we did lots of whale watching (there were several groups of humpbacks about in Fitz Hugh Sound and near Hakai Pass). We also conducted a zooplankton tow and spent quite a bit of time looking through the microscope at our interesting finds (medusa jelly, porcelain crab zooid, water flea, daphne, euphasid, and some phytoplankton), made journals and recorded what we saw (rainbows and whales featured prominently), identified birds, played coastal fauna "Jeopardy" (which went over really well, with both groups betting all they had in Final Jeopardy), and flew a kite. Captain Brian showed the campers how a hydrophone works, and, although it is not the time for humpbacks to be singing as they are busy feeding, we all got a chance to practice our whale noises.

The last day of the camp is always dedicated to feast day, where campers share with community members and family the cultural dances and songs they have been practicing throughout the week. We witnessed a strong and vital culture being passed on to the next generation.

After the cultural program, the floor was opened up for speeches, and a few campers went up and thanked Raincoast. Brian gave an eloquent reply that summarized our gratitude and feelings towards Koeye and its people. Being at Koeye recharges us, and provides a reminder of why we are doing the conservation work we do. It is also an inspiration as we watch these youth grow, learn, and discover. They will become the next community leaders who make resource management decisions.

After we said our final goodbyes and ‘see you next years’, Achiever headed to Safety Cove on Calvert Island under a darkening sky, where we anchored for the night. We watched the heavy rain from inside the cabin and reflected on the full week, and the bright future of the coast. We felt optimistic that Heiltsuk Territory – and the natural assets within – are in good hands.

Marlie van Roy is a Research Associate and Lori Waters is the Science Outreach Communicator for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.