David Suzuki meets OTESHA!

By Seble Samuel
2015 West Coast Tour Member

Some things don’t happen everyday…

Like rapping for David Suzuki!

It all began the day before: our day of firsts. We were crossing over from the mainland to Vancouver Island for the first time. Destination: Courtenay/Comox. It was also our very first rain day all tour.

A couple of us cycled down to do a workshare at Amara Farm with the fabulous Arzeena Hamir and her family (connected to us by the folks at Glen Valley Organics)! Beautiful farm karma right there. As we were busy harvesting away probably some of the most delicious sweet peas I’ve ever tasted, and Arzeena asks what we’re doing tomorrow. “Hiking Mount Washington I think, since it’s our day off.” “Oh fun! Did you guys know David Suzuki is speaking in Comox tomorrow?” Bright pea-filled smiles spread across our faces. But sadly, by the time we got home, the office was closed, the tickets were sold out, and the closest we had gotten to seeing David Suzuki was dreaming about him.

The next morning I was on the phone with the David Suzuki Foundation – “We’ll volunteer for the Comox Recreation Centre!” “We’ll volunteer for the David Suzuki Foundation!” “Did you know that we’re SUPPORTED by the David Suzuki Foundation!”*

All we got were some “try-calling-us-back-in-a-bit” responses and polite rejection emails. So, we sulked about the church rectory in our PJs mumbling about the bad luck.

Next thing we know, someone’s screaming: ‘Let’s just go! If you believe in yourself, you can see Suzuki speak today!” Inspired by yours truly:

We turned up sweaty and hopeful to the Comox Recreation Centre for Suzuki’s ‘Celebrating Coastal Communities – Blue Dot Tour’ only to see that even ticket-holders were being turned away. We huffed and puffed and tried and…nothing. But just as we were turning away, magic happened. A teacher’s class was leaving the presentation to cycle elsewhere and thirty spots would be opened!

Definitely a good-things-come-to-those-who-wait moment.

We got free seats and free scones!

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A documentary by Ian Mauro – filmmaker and researcher at the University of Manitoba – which focused on climate change impacts across British Columbia, kicked off the event. First Nations and other communities from across the province stressed the many challenges they face: ocean acidification, warming waters, algae blooms, declining fish stocks, drying creeks, droughts, states of emergency. The bleak outlook however, was matched with an urgency for climate action.

Suzuki then took the stage. And his talk was timely. The Blue Dot Tour is about water. And our group had only just felt the first raindrops all tour. It was also about indigenous knowledge, only days after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report had been released.

Suzuki spoke of a clash of cultures. Of 10,000 year old indigenous ecological knowledge, of reciprocal respect for the earth, and of 500 year old invasive colonial mindset of depleting resources for profit.

He emphasized the elements First Nations hold sacred: earth, air, fire, water. Four elements to which we are all inextricably connected. “Without air, we only survive three minutes. Without water, four to six days. Without food, three to six weeks,” said Suzuki.

Our ecological footprint is already immense by our sheer number. (In Suzuki’s lifetime, the world population has more than tripled). But on top of that, we now have technologies that chop mountaintops for coal, and frack rocks for gas.

“We are at a critical moment,” said Suzuki. “What we do or do not do in the coming years will determine if we survive as a species.”

Suzuki made clear the need for collaborations between settlers and indigenous communities so that we may keep the elements as our compass. Clean air. Clean water. Clean soil. Clean food.

While Suzuki’s talk came to an end, the closing words from Ian Mauro’s film seemed to still be ringing in the air. “We could be a catalyst for change, and realize that these things are worth fighting for.”

As the event ended and we filed out of the hall, we noticed a booth had been set up where Suzuki was doing book signings. So we lingered, as lingerers do, to see if we could get to chat with him. As the crowd began to disperse we got closer to the book signing table, whispering our excitement about getting a photo with him. One of the staff members overheard and said to us: “Oh just so you know, David Suzuki has a no-photo-policy,” she said. Too bad, really, we thought.

We walked on over to chat nonetheless because come on, when does that EVER happen that David Suzuki is right in front of your face. We didn’t know how to address him. Dr. Suzuki? David? I think eventually we muttered a nervous: “Hey!” That’s when he finally looked up at our expectant faces and we got the Otesha ball rolling. He was excited and even said his daughter did a bike trip across Canada! But it seems Suzuki is a visual learner so he said, “but what do you guys actually do?”

So this my friends, is where it all happened.

“Would you like to see our rap?” asked the Oteshaites.

“YEAH!” said David Suzuki.

The Comox Rec Centre fell silent and the Communications Team of the David Suzuki Foundation circled us with their cameras as we brought the rapping funk of sustainability and social justice. Suzuki watched on like a smiling, proud father.

“Can I get a photo with you guys?” asked David Suzuki.

“You sure can!” said the Oteshaites. Take that no-photo-policy.

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*Note: We have a lot of love for the David Suzuki Foundation, which has supported Otesha in the past with this testimonial: “We support the work of the Otesha Project and feel that this organization provides today’s youth with great role models who have already taken action toward creating a sustainable future.”

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