Sunday, 26 July 2015

Post 57: Productive Breaks, Field Trips, and Environmental Activism/Advocacy - Visitng the T'Sou-Ke First Nations' Solar Community

Being a graduate student also means choosing the right kind of breaks from thesis work. This past weekend I had the great fortune of participating in a Western Wilderness Committee organized field trip to one of the T'Sou-Ke First Nations villages out in Sooke. Their award-winning Solar Community has drawn widespread attention, and I heard the tour guide Andrew Moore present on the project several months ago when he lectured on campus. It was great to see an organized event that provided transportation (I still do not own a car), and that allowed us to visit this inspiring project. It was an event that wrapped up the Western Wilderness Committee's Salish Sea Tour.

A group of about 20 of us left downtown Victoria in the midday heat of early Sunday afternoon on the bright green Community Action Bus, pictured below. I haven't been on school bus transportation for years!
Loading into the Community Action Bus! With that bright green, we can't be missed!
Inside the bus! I'm on the left, three seats back, with glasses and one of the big smiles. (Photo credit: Torrance Coste)
Between the scrolled down windows to cut the heat, the rattling of various loose metal parts (as is so common on busses, and brought out my nostalgia!), and the loudness of the animated chatter from a dozen different conversations floating throughout the bus, it was a great ride out.

We arrived at the T'Sou-Ke village site a bit early, and after participatory songs led by the talented Luke Wallace and laughter and feeling the place out from the cover of shade, Chief Gordon Planes came to welcome us, and regale us with stories of place and people. It was beautiful! I learned a lot in about 20 minutes about how rooted to those shores and that inlet and the midden in front of us he and his people were; his observations of changing animal behaviours (deer, mostly), and landscape changes (middens and shore burial sites eroding to expose the bones of ancestors that need to be reburied with special ceremonial burials), his knowledge, his connection to neighbouring First Nations, both on Vancouver Island and his relatives on the US side of the Straight, and his generosity in sharing all of this! It was really wonderful.

Chief Gordon Planes welcoming us and telling us stories of when he was in the Boy Scouts! (Photo Credit: Torrance Coste) 
After a welcome prayer and song, Chief Planes introduced Andrew Moore, who took us on the Solar Tour, as he had to go and greet relatives that were coming up from a huge paddle into Beecher Bay, where there was going to be a very large feast held for them on Monday.

The lovely Andrew Moore in action, describing one of the solar installations behind me. 
Andrew showing us the second biggest solar panel installation, and how little maintenance they need!
One of the solar installations; the one with artwork on the right uses copper wiring to help heat hot water!
The T'Sou-Ke First Nation produces more power than they consume, and because they are linked to BC Hydro, they actually sell back their excess power production and currently make a profit with all this sunshine! In this relationship, BC Hydro essentially plays the role of a big battery, and it's my hope that this is the future of our utilities. Utilities are extremely important for making power accessible to the greatest number of people, much as we may sometimes gripe about them. (And even recognizing this basic function doesn't mean that we can't criticize utilities when we think they sometimes misstep or have problematic policies.) I absolutely, wholeheartedly, support the collective enterprise that they represent. At their root, utilities are supposed to be useful, and while I think there are some growing pains currently with shifting technologies and such, they and we will figure out what their role in the future will be.

The tour was meant to be a celebration of efforts to show what a decarbonized future could look like, and it was very fitting for that! I left with my head full of new terms (Watts and kilowatts and lead-acid batteries), a new sense of community, and encouragement for one of the numerous efforts to address climate change, develop energy sustainability, and build connections. What a great trip!

It was also a very good reminder of the hard-working people that engage in environmental activism through a variety of methods: music, presence, listening to the right people. On the bus ride a petition was passed around, and recent literature from the Western Wilderness Committee was shared. While I can't currently answer the call for solidarity and bring my body to the frontlines of the Unist'ot'en Camp right now, I can educate myself on solar energy and sign a petition. Democracy IS a muscle that needs to be exercised, and voting once every four years isn't enough. We all do our own piece, in our own way, taking care of what we can, and pushing ourselves a little bit, sometimes when others can support us to do so, or sometimes on our own. And isn't that a great thought for the journey of a thesis, as well?

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