Finding Kinship in Indigenous Culture & Modern Politics in British Columbia

Bioneers Kinship Trip 2015

It was hard to say goodbye to each other the morning of July 12th, the final day of our 2nd annual Bioneers Kinship Retreat. We had just spent a profound, life-changing week together—in ceremony with Indigenous elders, in conversation with policy makers and politicians, sharing feasts prepared for us, touring amazing places and meeting people creating a sustainable, just future now.

The most profound takeaway was the kinds of people who came together for the week: revolutionary thinkers, leaders and allies who were moreover spiritual, passionate, creative, funny, intellectual, incredibly kind humans. In other words, true bioneers.

Kinship Retreats are opportunities for Bioneers to honor the commitment of our most invested donors, and we do that by doing what we do best: connecting them with other amazing people and with innovations and ideas that can change the world—connections that might not otherwise have happened. Our journey reunited some of us, and for other newcomers it forged friendships that are sure to last a lifetime.

A Journey Started in Ceremony

Although our staff works hard behind the scenes to put together a powerful program and smooth logistics, authentic magic happened on this trip for which no one can take credit. Like on our first day in Vancouver when Chief Ruben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation invited us to his Reserve on the outskirts of Vancouver to learn about their heart-breaking battles with the oil industry in their backyard. And the gift of the revered elder Len George (and relative of the late Chief Dan George, the actor) coming to sit and share story with us will forever change our lives.

But what really hits hard in my gut is how, after we filed off our pre-arranged shuttle bus from the hotel and said a little prayer of intent together, they brought us into their gym and sat us down in their bleachers surrounded by all these beautiful little First Nations camp kids while their cultural leaders and dancers, dressed in their full regalia for us, sang and danced for us and told us of their creation stories and how all life came to be in that area of the world.

That is a gift of medicine and magic no one could have ever planned for, and that’s just how our journey together started—in ceremony. That’s a good place to start all things in life.

And just as this trip is about reciprocity to our donors, it is also about reciprocity for those brave warriors and culture keepers from Tsleil-Waututh who shared their story of an epic battle with big oil.  You can learn first-hand by clicking on the following link: Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust. These aboriginal people need our help.

An Insider’s Look at a Cutting-Edge Region

The transformative experiences continued throughout our rock star-style tour of British Columbia, thanks in large part to the all-too-humble Joel Solomon of Tides Foundation and Hollyhock retreat center who, perhaps on second thought, we can thank for a lot of the magic.

Joel arranged a guided tour of the policies that make Vancouver the “Greenest City in North American with the extraordinary people making it happen. The mayor of Vancouver dropped by during dinner and gave us further insight how the city is aiming for “Greenest City in the World” by 2020. We actually had to build in time just to decompress from all the learning, but what knowledge we gained! We learned about the Tar Sands issue from top to bottom, from political to Indigenous, from past to present.

Vancouver, we learned, is entering the race to 100% renewables. They lead North America in battling homelessness, they have safe-site injection places for addicts, community centers for the “down-townies” (homeless), pianos on the street corners for the public to just sit down and play, bans on all the plastics. Mind blown.

A Politician’s Surprising Reaction

But, for me, as the Indigenous person on staff, the unexpected happened at a dinner in downtown Vancouver when the Deputy Mayor spoke.

We were all gathered around dinner at a local restaurant where a show-stopping local politician, Andrea Weimer, was reporting on all the successes of Vancouver being the greenest city, how they are further ahead of the game than they ever thought possible…and the conversation turned to the tougher side of government.

From the homelessness to the orphanages, she explained how First Peoples were the most heavily impacted. And then she cried.  She apologized for her tears and gathered her composure as she explained how the Truth and Reconciliation Council had been formed to help colonials understand the atrocities of cultural and physical genocide inflicted upon the First Peoples.

I had never seen a politician cry for the Natives in my whole life. And she made me cry, too.

Moving Forward in Solidarity

I’ll think about this trip for the rest of my life. I’ll talk about it with all my friends and family and people from my village back home. I learned best practices and real-life stories of courage and success. I ate amazing food and saw magical places. I left with such a sweet taste of gratitude for the experience we all shared, how it has forever shaped my consciousness about this planet and its people and the magic all around.

And now I have new friends to move into the future with “in solidarity,” as they say.

Would you like to come along on the 2016 Kinship Retreat? Please contact Branden Barber ( or 415-660-9301) to explore the opportunity to have a personally impactful experience while positively impacting the lives of others. 

You can learn more about Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel destruction and explore climate solutions cities like Vancouver are pursuing at the 2015 Bioneers Conference »

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