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November 25, 2010

November 25, 2010



6 ESSENCE November 25, 2010 November 25, 2010 ESSENCE 7 REdfISh SwImmINg IN A SEA of


A R t I cle A nd I m Ages by s kye August I ne


I had lectures in living rooms, under tarps, and around



Last summer I went to summer school. But before you start picturing me trapped inside dreaming of the beach, listen to this — I had lectures in living rooms, under tarps, and around camp - fires. I learned on islands, in cities, in canoes, and on fields. Like most classes, there was plenty of reading assigned; but unlike most classes, I got to ask the authors questions afterward. My class - mates were brought together by a de - sire to change the world. What exactly was this so-called school, you ask? It was the Redfish School of Change — where normal classroom boundaries do not exist. The Redfish School of Change is a three-course program put on by the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. For the past two years, sixteen students from across Canada have gathered for this six-week intensive program designed to educate future leaders in environmental and social justice. Upon completion of the program, students receive credit for courses that cover topics in bioregional ecology, leadership, and food politics. Beginning in the Slocan Valley, par - ticipants travel together through Brit - ish Columbia, ending on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Along the way there are opportunities to volunteer on an organic farm, tour local initiatives, and do field research. But the jour - ney doesn’t end after those six weeks. The following semester each student is required to implement a community action project that takes the skills, in - spiration, and support built over the summer and transforms it into concrete action. This year, the projects range from community maps to documentary videos; from discussion groups to kin - dergarten gardens. I recently took the time to catch up with some of my fel - low Fishies and hear about how their projects are coming along.


Part of the journey from the Slocan Val- ley to Vancouver Island included a canoe trip down the Harrison and Fraser Riv - ers. “We paused for moments of silence throughout the trip,” recalls Redfish par- ticipant Erin Lawless. “It went from listen- ing to birds chirping and water flowing on the Harrison, to the sounds of construc- tion and traffic near Vancouver.” We were listening to the boom of our economy. For Erin, those moments signified that “people don’t realize we’re sacrificing the wildness, the silence, the animals, for our cities, our development, our success.” Redfish was full of revelations like this. Revelations that had us asking — why don’t more people feel compelled to pro- tect the land that sustains us? Part of the problem, Erin suggests, is the apparent lack of connection between generations of people, as well as between people and plac- es. The canoe journey helped Erin realize that “connection is one of the underlying problems behind environmental and social issues within our society. If people could realize what it is we’re giving up, if people cared about these places, they would give a shit.” In an effort to reconnect people to plac- es, Erin is putting on workshops for grand- parents and grandchildren to participate together in restoration projects and share stories. “We want to get grandparents and grandchildren out working on the land to- gether. Getting dirty while they talk about places.” Possible restoration projects Erin is con- sidering include building gardens, invasive species pulls, and Garry Oak rehabilita - tion. “It’s about making memories with important people in special places. No one wants to see the forest they played in as a child bulldozed.” After a day of restoration, the second half of the workshop will be focussed on story telling. Grandparents and grandchildren will each get a chance to tell their stories about natural places of personal signifi -

cance. Stories are Erin’s medium of choice because of their power to evoke emotional connection, mental concentration, and for their transferability. Grandparents will be asked about places that have been impor- tant throughout their lives, while children will be encouraged to talk about what is important to them now. By sharing stories, an intergenerational appreciation for the land and the changes it is undergoing will be developed. “If people can continue to care about places, then they are much more likely to protect them,” Erin emphasizes. Erin has also decided to digitize the stories and build an online community map. The maps will be available both to workshop participants, as well as the larger community. “The project is not limited to the benefit of the individuals who are tak- ing part in the workshops; the lessons and the stories will be accessible to the wider community.”


Before attending Redfish, Clare Peacock knew that much in the world needed to change. But, like many of us, she got overwhelmed by the magnitude of the is- sues. “I was looking to do large, grandiose gestures that could change the world. It’s so easy to get caught up by everything that there is to be done and try to do too much.” “Redfish helped me focus. I was able to reflect on what I can do best, where my skills lie, and figure out how I can best effect change in my community.” This strong emphasis on self-reflection was to key to Redfish. Repeatedly, we heard from inspirational people that you cannot change something you do not love. Clare listened, and designed a project that ful- filled her personally. Inspired by her love of interviewing peo- ple, editing, and putting movies together, Clare is currently working on a docu - mentary exploring food security issues re- lated to local meat on Vancouver Island. “Farmers have trouble selling their meat

as local because they have to take them to government run slaughterhouses,” Clare explains. Because most slaughterhouses are located off-island, transportation costs quickly compound, making slaughtering unaffordable for the average farmer. As a result, many farmers have either stopped raising local meat or are doing it illegally, which greatly reduces islanders’ access to fresh local meat. Clare’s documentary will feature various people with a stake in local meat produc- tion, including farmers and policy mak- ers. Together they will explore where we currently are regarding food security, and where we need to be. While the documentary’s emphasis on food security has its roots in Clare’s ex - periences prior to Redfish, the program’s experiential learning process helped foster her interest. It provided her, along with the other participants, the chance to speak directly with co-op managers, organic farmers, and local meat distributers. In order to explore food security even further, every Redfish participant took turns preparing sustainable meals for the group. As one can imagine, shopping for twenty people on a budget was no easy task. Not to mention that we also made a group decision to factor in the distance ingredients had travelled, their production conditions, and whether or not they were organic. Yet we rose to the challenge, pre- paring meals for each other for most of the trip. As Clare says, “we didn’t just talk about ethical food choices, we practiced them.”


Chloe Donatelli began her community action project planning to pursue food is- sues on campus, but quickly realized her original idea was more complicated than achievable. “I came to understand that the project had to be tangible. It had to have a start and an end.” Echoing the thoughts of Erin and Clare, Chloe recalls how Redfish helped her to be reflective. “The best way

to resonate with other people is to ask:

What has resonated with you? What was impactful for you?” For Chloe, voluntary simplicity circles were the answer. Voluntary simplicity cir-

cles are grassroots discussion groups based on a series of readings by the Northwest Earth Institute in Portland, Oregon that discuss sustainable living. Chloe had taken part in a circle during her first year of uni- versity and found it had a large impact on the direction of that part of her life. After Redfish, she decided to return to the circles and work to make them more accessible for students, as well as build a stronger sense of community within each circle. “Within a university community you generally have many younger folk who are starting to form the values that a lot

of their life will be based upon

. . .


important to hear alternatives.” Voluntary simplicity circles offer these alternatives to mainstream lifestyles, and the circles are made richer by the diver - sity of the participants. “We all have our own experiences,” says Chloe. “When we look at these issues, no one is an expert. These circles provide a space where people can talk about their feelings of disillusion- ment and frustration with the systems we have in place right now. It’s a safe place to talk about these things and come up with new solutions in the context of each individual’s life.” Participants in the circles include univer- sity students, people nearing retirement, and parents raising children. Together they explore important questions such as: How do I find employment while remaining in tune with my values of sustainability? How do I raise in a child in tune with these values? How do I retire securely, and age gracefully, while living out these values? Like many participants, Chloe feels that Redfish provided her with the skills that are making her current work possible. “Redfish gave me a lot of confidence in a facilitator’s role, which has been required

of me in a lot of the groups I’m involved in this year. Before going on Redfish I don’t know if I would have had the same level of comfort. I’m not sure I would have be- lieved that I could step into that role.” Chloe’s action project has been to publi- cize voluntary simplicity circles, facilitate the initial meetings, and continue to bring participants together for a meal every sec- ond Thursday. The circles have expanded dramatically this year, with over four cir- cles in session this semester.

Skills + Inspiration = Action

As a Geography and Environmental Studies student, I have been more than im- mersed in the many dysfunctions inherent to our current world system. Typically, it seems many people get stuck just discuss- ing the various problems that surround us. But as my fellow fishy Clare says, “as a generation of up-and-coming policy mak- ers, educators, movers and shapers — we need to change the way we are living if we are going to create a sustainable world.” Redfish shifted us from discussion to ac- tion by marrying fundamental skills with the possibility of positive action. Our classes had us asking: How do I want to make a difference? How can I be the most effective? What do I love? Now, our projects have us answering these ques- tions as we direct groups, film documen- taries, and calculate budgets. “We aren’t sitting on our butts talking about it any- more,” affirms Clare. “Now we are out there, doing things.” Becoming a part of the Redfish com- munity allowed me to step into a world of possibility. Together, we explored the rich diversity inherent in individuals; how the passion each person brings with them lifts the group up to a place of immense potential. I was buoyed by others’ projects and inspired by their abundance of cour- age. I created a network of support, while gaining knowledge and developing skills. Together, we played in the promise of a better world.


Redfish shifted us from discussion to action by marrying fundamental skills with the

possibility of positive action.


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