In April 2000, Time Magazine honored Simon Jackson, then 17, as one of 60 "Heroes for the Planet" for his efforts to save an endangered bear. Now a university student, Jackson still divides his time between school and his campaign, between going to class and meeting with government officials, community leaders, and all who have a stake in the forests of British Columbia. "The Raven's Gift" is a passionate essay he wrote for GlobalTribe, calling on youth of today to be the stewards of our planet.
The Raven's Gift by Simon Jackson|
I am a child of the Gulf War generation. I have seen the travesties that humankind can inflict on one another and on our planet. Yet, with each day, with each seemingly overwhelming challenge that we face, we are also presented with our most powerful shield from failure and our greatest vehicle for positive change. Hope. For without hope, we have no reason to wake up in the morning, no will to improve on our mistakes, and no prospect of happiness. It is because of hope that each day offers new opportunities, unparalleled successes, and unrealized change. It is hope that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. It is hope that helped free Nelson Mandela. And it is hope -- and all of its support mechanisms -- that has kept me going during the darkest days in my quest to help save our Spirit Bear.
In a time when few things in life are constant, one corner of the world offers a counter argument -- the Land of the Spirit Bear. Shrouded in mist and mystery and encompassed by cathedrals of ancient trees and rivers bloody with salmon, this part of Western Canada is a forgotten gem in a combed over world. It is a complex web of life, a model for the interdependence of species, a reminder of all that is right in this world.
What's more, this untouched paradise is the world's last chance to save the rare, white Kermode or Spirit Bear. While resembling a misplaced polar bear or an albino, it is neither. In fact, the Spirit Bear is a genetically unique subspecies of the North American black bear that exists only in the rainforest canopy of Canada's west coast. One out of every ten of these Kermode bears is born white -- a reminder of when the world was once covered with ice and snow, according to local First Nation lore.
Over the past one hundred years, the majority of the Spirit Bear's habitat has been developed or logged, leaving one last enclave no bigger than Rhode Island. Today, fewer than four hundred white bears survive -- most in a wilderness ecosystem of islands and mainland watersheds that comprise the world's last, largest area of untouched and unprotected temperate rainforest -- what is referred to as the Land of the Spirit Bear.
The sight of a wild bear is something that is both humbling and awe-inspiring for most people, and to a seven year old, it is fascinating. For me, after seeing my first wild bear in the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park, I wanted to learn everything that there was to learn about bears -- any kind, anywhere. Soon, I discovered that Alaska's Kodiak bear was threatened and decided that I wanted to do my part to help save them by raising money through a lemonade stand and by writing letters to U.S. President George Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Within a few months, the Kodiak bear was saved. While I know now that I had little impact on the issue, it did plant the seed that I could make a difference. From then on, my passion for the wilderness and specifically for bears strengthened. So did my belief in the power of one.
I was thirteen when I learned of the plight of the Spirit Bear. The threat to their future was reprehensible. I knew I had to help. And so began my efforts to save the Spirit Bear.
Many people were skeptical at first, mainly because they saw it as nothing more than a white Black bear. But what they didn't understand is that a genetic subspecies such as the Spirit Bear is a testament to the uniqueness of their habitat. And this unparalleled ecosystem can survive if the Spirit Bear survives. That's because to save the Spirit Bear, you must save a large enough gene pool of Black bears that may carry the white gene. The only way to sustain the Kermode gene pool is to keep at least one large ecosystem stable and intact. Without full protection for the Land of the Spirit Bear, the world may lose this gentle bear forever.
I launched my campaign by looking through a phone book and contacting everyone I thought might have insight on one side or the other of this issue. It was very difficult at first and I often wrote down what I was going to say before I called, but my desire to save the bear overrode my fear. In time, I became more confident and thick skinned. And the more I learned, the more determined I was to save the ecosystem that the bears call home.
However, with nothing more than a form letter response from the Premier, I realized that to save the Spirit Bear, I would need more than 700 letters. Yet, I didn't give up hope. I realized that it wasn't that the letter writing campaign had failed; it was that 700 letters didn't illustrate the true support base that I was sure existed for this bear. So instead of giving up, I refocused my attention, and made it my mission to engage as many young people as possible.
I felt the best chance I had at uniting people to help save the Spirit Bear was the group I was able to relate to most -- my peers. I brought the issue to my school and formulated a plan. I decided that letter writing was an effective and tangible way of making the voices of my peers heard in this issue. And so, during my Grade 9 year, I spoke to every English class and encouraged students and teachers to participate in a letter writing campaign which resulted in the mailing of 700 letters to then Premier, Glen Clark.
Still, some people, I believe, did not take my involvement in this issue seriously. For many, it was easier to challenge my endeavors, through name calling and teasing, than to accept me for who I was. I understand that it is not easy for everyone to speak in front of a crowd or make their voice the loudest. I understand, because it was not easy for me. It is scary to stand before the skeptics and even your own peers and challenge the status quo. But I came to see the battle as one of personal integrity. I have learned that it is our moral obligation to help protect the defenseless. And I believe strongly that if you believe in your message and stay the course, no challenge is insurmountable.
I was overwhelmed by the time and experience so many people shared with me. The likes of naturalist Charlie Russell provided me with an understanding I needed to learn about the issue. Jane Goodall provided early inspiration for my work, writing me personal letters of encouragement in times when it seemed like all hope was lost. And the media were responsive to a youth working to better the community and, as a result, did several feature stories. In April 2000, when Time Magazine honored me as one of the 60 Heroes for the Planet, the media coverage snowballed, resulting in TV, radio, and print stories reaching close to 65 million people.
I realized that youth from around the world cared for this British Columbian bear and saw it as a global treasure. More than anything, the Spirit Bear campaign symbolized to youth everywhere that it was important to stand up and be counted. It helped show the world that youth have an important voice that must be listened to, for we are the future stewards of this planet. And, as a result of this widespread support, I founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, the largest youth-led environmental network in the world reaching five million young people in more than 30 countries.
Soon the message had legs -- helping to bring the issue from political oblivion to the forefront of boardrooms, cabinet meetings, and the public eye. In turn, on April 4th, 2001, we were able to help create an historic, precedent setting land-use agreement between all of the stakeholders involved in this issue. The agreement sought to protect large swaths of land on Canada's west coast -- including half of the Land of the Spirit Bear. Still, half remains threatened. And with half threatened, the future of the Spirit Bear remains tenuous.
That is why today, it must be our challenge to empower and inspire youth to get involved - to show them they have a voice - that they can create change. And for this reason, we must take every action to engage young people in issues that affect our future and encourage them to follow their passion and to chase their dreams. Youth can be the voices for the sick, the poor, the children, the dreamers - and the bears. It is our most important endeavor and our greatest tool for a better tomorrow. There are no insignificant endeavors and by becoming active citizens in our world, we will open doors, broaden horizons, and indirectly, change lives. Youth can provide hope for our world and all of the challenges that lie ahead.
Today, we must illustrate that the greatest sin is not trying and that by trying, together - as one voice - our dreams are possible and our missions are most certainly winnable. For me, it begins by saving this undeniably, irreplaceable bear and I have hope that together we can and we will save our Spirit Bear.
Throughout my last seven years I have experienced many things. I have learned that passion is critical to any message -- as it is the greatest messenger of all. I have learned to focus, to research all sides of an issue, and to live by the saying, "If you don't ask, you don't get." I have learned not to lose hope, for hope is the essential building block of life and our greatest tool for a better tomorrow. But, most of all, I'm grateful for Raven's gift - the Spirit Bear and the wild space it calls home.