Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss, a fifteen-year-old intern in the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards program, takes a photo in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. She’s one of four summer 2016 interns who spent eight weeks discovering the local territory and traditions. Photo © Jason Houston

Outtakes: Class in Session in the Great Bear Rainforest

Spring 2017

In July, photographer Jason Houston traveled deep into the heart of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to capture conservation efforts there for Nature Conservancy magazine. But his assignment wasn’t simply to document the story. He, together with magazine photo director Melissa Ryan, had come to teach photography to a group of local teenagers in the hope that they, too, could begin to document aspects of their environment and culture.

The teens were part of a summer internship program called Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS), supported by TNC Canada. The program is trying to reconnect a new generation to its traditions. As late as 1996, government-funded residential schools isolated First Nation children from their families, banning their languages and traditions. (In 2015, a Canadian governmental commission declared the practice “cultural genocide.”) In recent years, as First Nations across British Columbia have reclaimed rights to their ancestral lands, an effort to reclaim their traditional knowledge has grown too.

That’s where sharing images can help, by giving them modern tools to support their own cultural storytelling tradition, Ryan says.

Houston and Ryan spent five days teaching four teenagers from the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Klemtu village how to make compelling photographs to share their world with others. They captured images of salmon fishing, bear tracking and ancestral sites.

“The generation above missed out on everything, but they’re now living it again through their children,” Phil Charles, the internship program’s coordinator, says. “We can take the four interns out and they get that direct knowledge, but it spreads immediately to their family. And, when it goes online, it spreads to the whole community.”

Here we offer a selection of the photos the SEAS interns took last summer.

Houston and Ryan used copies of Nature Conservancy magazine to teach interns about photography in the classroom before moving to the field and teaching them the mechanics of the camera (Houston with Robinson-Neasloss, center), and shooting in places important to the community like Mussel Inlet (right). The inlet is a major bear-viewing area for Kitasoo ecotourism outfits. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Melissa Ryan)
Houston and Ryan used copies of Nature Conservancy magazine to teach interns about photography in the classroom before moving to the field and teaching them the mechanics of the camera (Houston with Robinson-Neasloss, center), and shooting in places important to the community like Mussel Inlet (right). The inlet is a major bear-viewing area for Kitasoo ecotourism outfits. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Melissa Ryan)
For Houston, working with the SEAS interns sometimes meant having the camera turned back toward him. On board the program’s boat, Spirit Bear 1, the interns were excited to photograph Jason as he photographed them from another boat. Photo © Jason Houston
For Houston, working with the SEAS interns sometimes meant having the camera turned back toward him. On board the program’s boat, Spirit Bear 1, the interns were excited to photograph Jason as he photographed them from another boat. Photo © Jason Houston
Mercy Mason was just putting her camera down when she spotted this eagle circling overhead in search of fish to eat. “The photos you take tell multiple stories,” Mason says. “Looking through the camera, you see things and beauty in the world that you can’t see unless you really look hard—things you sometimes fail to see in life, little things you see when you get lucky: the way the bird’s positioned, the way the fish jumps.” Photo © Mercy Mason
Mercy Mason was just putting her camera down when she spotted this eagle circling overhead in search of fish to eat. “The photos you take tell multiple stories,” Mason says. “Looking through the camera, you see things and beauty in the world that you can’t see unless you really look hard—things you sometimes fail to see in life, little things you see when you get lucky: the way the bird’s positioned, the way the fish jumps.” Photo © Mercy Mason
Robinson-Neasloss was simply splashing in the water of Mussel Inlet when she decided to toss the water high enough to capture it as it fell. “One of the goals of the workshop was to get [the students] to be very deliberate and intentional with the photographs that they’re making,” Houston says. “Really create the kind of photograph that they see in their mind when they see a scene in front of them.” Photo © Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss
Robinson-Neasloss was simply splashing in the water of Mussel Inlet when she decided to toss the water high enough to capture it as it fell. “One of the goals of the workshop was to get [the students] to be very deliberate and intentional with the photographs that they’re making,” Houston says. “Really create the kind of photograph that they see in their mind when they see a scene in front of them.” Photo © Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss
“I was just sitting on the log, and I looked to my left and saw that plant,” says Robert Duncan, who in taking this picture managed to capture water droplets reflecting the world around them. The SEAS program is meant in part to help students explore their world more fully. Photo © Robert Duncan
“I was just sitting on the log, and I looked to my left and saw that plant,” says Robert Duncan, who in taking this picture managed to capture water droplets reflecting the world around them. The SEAS program is meant in part to help students explore their world more fully. Photo © Robert Duncan
When Julianne Mason took several photos of fish eyes, Ryan told her they reminded her of watercolor paintings. Ryan and Houston were hoping each student would find their own unique way of expressing themselves visually. “We want to know: What do you see?” Ryan says. “Show us a way to relate to all of the different things that the SEAS internship is providing [you]—connection to culture, connection to science and conservation and nature things.” Photo © Julianne Mason
When Julianne Mason took several photos of fish eyes, Ryan told her they reminded her of watercolor paintings. Ryan and Houston were hoping each student would find their own unique way of expressing themselves visually. “We want to know: What do you see?” Ryan says. “Show us a way to relate to all of the different things that the SEAS internship is providing [you]—connection to culture, connection to science and conservation and nature things.” Photo © Julianne Mason
SEAS is designed to impact the whole community. Teenagers visit ancestral sites, as they did with Doug Neasloss, chief councilor of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, and return home to their families to share their experiences. Mercy Mason captured Neasloss when he took them to visit an ancient communal midden site. Photo © Mercy Mason
SEAS is designed to impact the whole community. Teenagers visit ancestral sites, as they did with Doug Neasloss, chief councilor of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, and return home to their families to share their experiences. Mercy Mason captured Neasloss when he took them to visit an ancient communal midden site. Photo © Mercy Mason
The interns spent a lot of time on the SEAS boat for the summer as they traveled to various ancestral sites—something most local teenagers would not typically be able to do because of the high cost of fuel there. Looking through a window, Robinson-Neasloss captured this image of their boat captain lost in thought. Photo © Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss
The interns spent a lot of time on the SEAS boat for the summer as they traveled to various ancestral sites—something most local teenagers would not typically be able to do because of the high cost of fuel there. Looking through a window, Robinson-Neasloss captured this image of their boat captain lost in thought. Photo © Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss
Central to the program is the idea that by reinforcing the community’s connection to the environment, the next generation will continue to conserve the world around them. Here Kitasoo/Xai’xais hereditary chief Ernest “Charlie” Mason Jr. takes the students on a salmon-fishing excursion. Photo © Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss
Central to the program is the idea that by reinforcing the community’s connection to the environment, the next generation will continue to conserve the world around them. Here Kitasoo/Xai’xais hereditary chief Ernest “Charlie” Mason Jr. takes the students on a salmon-fishing excursion. Photo © Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss
“It’s one thing to read a book or hear about these sites,” says Charles, the summer program coordinator. “But to be able to go to shell middens and pictographs and burial sites, to actually be there and feel it, is such a different experience.” Through photography, Ryan and Houston hope, the interns (above) can share those experiences far beyond their internship. Photo © Jason Houston
“It’s one thing to read a book or hear about these sites,” says Charles, the summer program coordinator. “But to be able to go to shell middens and pictographs and burial sites, to actually be there and feel it, is such a different experience.” Through photography, Ryan and Houston hope, the interns (above) can share those experiences far beyond their internship. Photo © Jason Houston

— NCM

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5 comments

  1. What a great adventure! Thank you for letting me see the beauty of your natural world through your eyes.

  2. We love best things we have touched, seen, smelled, heard. A photograph or drawing can capture the memory, in part.

  3. The photo of the eagle makes me appreciate my own ability to experience “awe”
    Thank you all – you are awesome

  4. This was a marvelous experience for these young people! It’s encouraging to know that young people are so invested in our world’s environment. May they have many more such experiences!