Study Abroad Report Great Bear Rainforest - Andreas Huck

This report describes my research activities in British Columbia, Canada in the summer of 2012 for the project "A Forest for the Future: recent developments pertaining to management and conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada". I describe how I prepared for the interviews with experts of different fields as well as with First Nation people. Further, I line out my experiences in Canada, especially in the First Nation's community of Bella Bella, concerning my research activities.

1.        INTRODUCTION - A BRIEF DESCRIPTION ABOUT THE PROJECT

Working together with staff from the faculty on current research projects builds a remarkable part of my studies here in Groningen. Namely, there are courses such as 'Research Process', 'Research Design', 'Individual Research Training', and 'Research Management'. In my case, the last two were combined with a third course ('Study Abroad'). These three courses were all embedded in the project "A Forest for the Future: recent developments pertaining to management and conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada". This report focuses on the course Study Abroad'. The aim of this course for me was to gain experience in conducting research in a foreign context. This part was co-financed by the Association for Canadian Studies in the Netherlands (ACSN) Student Research Award (1,150€).

The research visit to British Columbia aimed (1) to follow up on a project conducted in 2007 by members of the Faculty of Spatial Sciences on the management and conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR), and (2) to focus on issues of the proposed Northern Gateway pipelines. The project drew on contacts established in 2007 as well as incorporated new perspectives. Outcomes will be a journal article as well as a video production about recent developments in managing and conserving the GBR.

In the following it is outlined how I was preparing for the in-depth video-interviews conducted in British Columbia, Canada during the summer of 2012. Moreover, I describe my research activities in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island as well as in Bella Bella, a First Nation's community north of Vancouver Island. Finally, I conclude with some reflections on my study period abroad, focussing on experiences in working with experts of different fields as well as with members of Qqs Projects Society and other members of the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella.

2.        PREPARATION FOR THE INTERVIEWS

To find out about politics and perceptions of management and conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest and about perceptions on the planned Northern Gateway pipelines, I planned to talk to people with different viewpoints. Literature and internet research as well as a media analysis revealed different groups which are important to consider for getting detailed information. These groups include:

  • Environmental Non Governmental Organisations (ENGOs)

  • British Columbia Provincial Government

  • Forest Industry (and in the case of Northern Gateway also Oil Industry)

  • First Nations

I managed to conduct in-depth video-interviews with representatives with most of these groups, solely direct representatives of forest and oil industry are not covered. Below you can find a list of interviewees including their position:

Name

Position and Organisation

Date

Place

Jens Wieting

Forest Campaigner, Sierra Club BC

07/20

Vancouver

Robyn Allan

Independent economist

07/22

Whistler

George Hoberg

Professor, University of British Columbia

07/23

Vancouver

Eduardo Sousa

Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada

07/24

Vancouver

Alex Clapp

Professor, Simon Fraser University

07/24

Vancouver

Dallas Smith

Director, Nanwakolas Council

07/25

Nanaimo

Patrick Armstrong

Director, Moresby Consulting

07/26

Nanaimo

Lindsay Jones

Regional Director, BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation

07/26

Nanaimo

Rory Annett

Executive Director, BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

07/27

Quadra Island

Merran Smith

Director, Energy Program TIDES Canada

07/31

Bowen Island

Roger Hayter

Professor, Simon Fraser University

08/02

Vancouver

Misty McDuffee

Wild Salmon Project, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

08/08

Koeye

Brian Falconer

Marine Operations Program, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

08/09

Koeye

Magan Adams

Marine Operations Program, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

08/10

Koeye

William Housty

Coast Watch Director, Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network

08/11

Koeye

Larry Jorgenson

Director, Qqs Projects Society

08/12

Bella Bella

Korin Humchitt

Student, Bella Bella Community School

08/13

Bella Bella

Angelica Kero

Student, Bella Bella Community School

08/13

Bella Bella

Desmond Roessingh

Student, Bella Bella Community School

08/13

Bella Bella

Kelly Brown

Director, Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department

08/14

Bella Bella

Harvey Humchitt

Director, Department of Research, Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department

08/14

Bella Bella

Mike Reid

Director, Department of Fishery, Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department

08/14

Bella Bella

Fred Schaub

Director, Bella Bella Community School

08/15

Bella Bella

Jessie Housty

Director of Traditional Knowledge, Qqs Projects Society

08/16

Bella Bella

The table makes clear that in-depth interviews with participants from such diverse backgrounds require individual preparation. Moreover, the aim of each interview was to find out about different perceptions on management and conservation issues. Thus, each in-depth interview was prepared with the help of a thoroughly internet- and media analysis about each interviewee's appearance in public life. This included the study of newspaper articles, blog entries, mission statements of each organisation, recent publications, and so forth. In the case of academic experts it also included studying recent publications in academic journals, in the case of government representatives the study of recent government reports and policies, and in the case of ENGOs the study of recent position papers and activities. With this background information I prepared a personal interview guide for each participant. The interview guides can be seen in the appendix.

Besides this, video-based interviews had to be prepared in technical terms. I had to be familiar with the video equipment, know where and how to position the participants, be aware of light sources, backgrounds and audio matters, and at the same time conduct an in-depth interview. Preparation in technical terms consisted of practicing with the camera, tripod, and microphone in different surroundings.

Finally, before conducting interviews on Heiltsuk Territory (in Bella Bella), permission from the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) was needed. Therefore some forms had to be filled out stating the research goals and explaining the sort of the research.

3.        RESEARCH ACTIVITIES IN VANCOUVER AND ON VANCOUVER ISLAND

The first set of interviews was conducted in Vancouver, Whistler and in different locations on Vancouver Island between July 20st and August 2nd 2012.

The first interview was conducted with Jens Wieting from Sierra Club BC at his home. He lives in a very small house with few open space which made it hard to find an appropriate spot to conduct the video-interview. The interview itself went good. However, since it was my first interview and I didn't have any practice before, I was holding on to the interview guide relatively strongly.

For the second interview with Robyn Allan in her house in Whistler was more relaxed already and able to ask more (unplanned) follow-up questions. Also handling the camera was easier since I placed it more in front of me so that I could watch the camera and Robyn at the same time. The following interviews with George Hoberg (in his office), Eduardo Sousa (in the conference room of Greenpeace Canada), Alex Clapp (at his home), Dallas Smith (in a teaching room of Vancouver Island University), Patrick Armstrong (at his home), Lindsay Jones (in his office), Rory Annett (at his home), Merran Smith (at her home), and Roger Hayter (in his office) all were successful in general terms. Sometimes it was hard to find an appropriate spot for video-taping, sometimes the light situation was not optimal, sometimes it was hard to find a quiet enough environment to video-tape, but I got more and more confident with interviewing experts.

Overall the first phase of interviews was planned quite accurately in advance. I had email- or phone-contact with all the participants before and also sent them their interview guides in advance.

4.        RESEARCH ACTIVITIES IN BELLA BELLA AND IN KOEYE

The second set of interviews was conducted in Bella Bella, a First Nation's community north of Vancouver Island and at Koeye, a remote and culturally important place for Heiltsuk First Nation between August 8th and August 16th.

Preparation and realisation of this phase was thought to be done in cooperation with Jessie Housty, Director of Traditional Knowledge, Qqs (Eyes) Projects Society. Part of the research stay in Bella Bella / Koeye was the accompaniment of the Qqs summer camp. Preparation and realisation of this part was thought to be done in cooperation with Raincoast Conservation Society. For two and a half days I joined the Raincoast Crew on the 'Achiever', a sail boat equipped for research activities, taking out Heiltsuk youth to watch whales and learn about the marine ecosystem. My task was to document sea life and the work of the Raincoast Crew with Heiltsuk youth with my video camera. Gathered material was shared afterwards with Raincoast Conservation Society. Moreover, I conducted interviews with Raincoast staff members on their view on management and conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest and especially on issues of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. During the summer camp at Koeye I also managed to video tape some nature footage and conducted an interview with William Housty, Coast Watch Director, Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network. Back in Bella Bella I conducted interviews with students and the principal of Bella Bella community schoool about their perceptions on the Great Bear Rainforest and in particular about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and it's assessment process. Furthermore, I managed to conduct interviews with the director of Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department and with the heads of the fishery and the research department. Finally, I also conducted an interview with Jessie Housty.

Preplanning the interviews conducted in Balla Bella and Koeye was difficult, due to the circumstance that hardly any contact with the interviewees was possible in advance. Pre-planned interviews included the one with Fred Schaub, director of Bella Bella community school and with the students. In this case I was in contact with Fred Schaub and Violet Langer, a teacher who helped me to recruit students for interviews. Furthermore, I planned the interviews with Jessie and William Housty and with Larry Jorgenson in advance. Communication and arrangements in advance, however, were hardly possible. Interviews with the director and staff members of HIRMD were only planned one day in advance due to communication problems.

5.        REFLECTIONS ON THE STUDY PERIOD ABROAD

During my research activities in Canada I had the (before then unknown) opportunity to undergo two very diverse foreign experiences in one and the same country. I was not aware about the huge cultural divide in British Columbia before I actually experienced it myself. On the one hand, this insight contributed to my personal wealth of experience, on the other hand, it contributed to a great extent to the quality of my research. I believe, that only with the experienced cultural divide between First Nation members and white academics, government representatives and ENGO representatives, I am able to interpret the gathered data in an appropriate (or more appropriate) way.

During the first phase of my research activities in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island participants were very open towards me and showed me that they trust me. I believe this is because the project is conducted under the label of Groningen University and was presented as a follow-up project, so they could examine results of the first project before confirming their cooperation. Without any exception scheduling and preplanning the interviews was possible and helpful for both sides.

During the second phase of my research activities in Bella Bella and Koeye, conducting my research proved more difficult than I thought. Even though, I was in contact with Jessie Housty from Qqs Projects Society before and we appeared as project partners in contact with possible participants, project registration and participant recruitment in advance proved to be difficult. These circumstances made it very hard for me to conduct my research and to win trust amongst participants. Looking back at it now, a good guess for the reasons of these difficulties might be my background and appearance. I came to Bella Bella as a white academic, curious about life in Bella Bella and about First Nation's perceptions on the area they are living in. Taking the colonial history of British Columbia into account and thinking about the so called post-colonial era today, in which First Nations are still disadvantaged compared to white Canadians, one can assume that sometimes there is reasonable distrust against white outsiders as me. The more time I spent talking to people in Bella Bella, however, the easier it was for me to recruit participants and the more trust I felt amongst Heiltsuk members.

The main conclusion I draw from this experience is: Never underestimate cultural differences and history in fieldwork and research activities!

6.        WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Currently, I am transcribing the interviews and next to that I am working on an academic paper about First Nation's involvement in the Joint Review Process which is conducted to assess whether the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal is in Canada's public interest or not. The focus of the paper lies on relationships between pipeline proponents (namely Enbridge Inc. and Canada's federal government) and British Columbia's coastal First Nations (i.e. Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella). In the paper the current conflict is assessed on emotional bases and approaches from the field of Social Impact Assessment Theory are analysed in regard of potentials to solve the conflict.

Furthermore, my supervisor and project leader dr. Bettina van Hoven (University of Groningen) and the distribution director Jean Marie Andrews (Ohio Landscape Productions) are working on ways to produce and distribute video documentaries with the gathered video-material.