Q & A with Chuck and Celine
*Edited for clarity and brevity
Shannon: With Ecotrust Canada focusing on community-led solutions and projects, how has the organization’s community approach adapted during the pandemic? And do you have any specific examples?
Chuck: Like everybody else, we have had to take a step back and depend on virtual connections. We certainly lose the closeness and direct connection with folks. You lose that ability to have those cups of coffee in a direct way. But it also opens the door for more regular and frequent connections. Instead of traveling all over the place you’re able to do more from one place — reaching out to those more remote communities that you’re working with. We look forward to getting back into the room, especially for group workshops where you want more opportunity to engage larger groups of people in a more fulsome discussion.
We have had a couple of successful virtual workshops where we’ve engaged communities. Celine, I think you’ve had an opportunity to watch our Indigenous Home-Lands folks in that virtual setting, maybe you’ve got some thoughts on how that’s rolling out.
Celine: It looks smooth! That’s the testament to their work in communities and the relationships that they already have. During the pandemic we’ve had an opportunity to really think about what’s important. We’re consolidating, and the effort that’s required to build relationships is high. We are in a position, like so many other people, to make our moves count. I’ve found that people are thinking about what matters in their life and relationships, and that seems to be showing up in our community work. I don’t think I’ve been in a single meeting with community members where we haven’t talked about the horrible, but clarifying, presence of the pandemic in our work.
Shannon: Celine, I’ll ask this question then specifically to you. You’ve recently joined the team as our Chief Impact Officer. What is it about Ecotrust Canada that strikes you as different than other organizations?
Celine: Quite a bit. I was struck at first about how Ecotrust Canada centres people in their work. But I think the standout is that Ecotrust Canada looks for chances to be courageous. I’ve worked in a lot of sectors where, if the stakes are high, and the conflict is hot, organizations are just backing away slowly.
If you are working in a community, for example, on housing and there’s complicated dynamics where it seems there are contradictions playing out — like economy versus environment — a lot of organizations will back away from that complexity. I feel like Ecotrust Canada runs toward it because those are the places that we can have the most transformative conversations that move beyond the systems that put us in those traps in the first place. We’re not afraid to sit around the campfire squarely in the middle of those nuanced, charged, sometimes conflict-ridden conversations and look for the innovative potential.
Then “proving the possible.” is inspiring. It is the conversation that we need to transform the way we exist on the land here together, on unceded territory in Canada. I think that’s unique and what drew me to work with this team.
Chuck: Do you think we’re crazy? I mean, people step away from stuff for a reason, right? It comes with a whole bunch of risk. What’s the downside to doing this is? Where do you see the trouble that we could get ourselves into?
Celine: It depends on your perspective. I see it as a huge gift to walk into a space and be humble and ready to fumble. We’re going fail fast, or we’re going to fail hard. I think our ability to pick ourselves up and keep trying to figure it out is why we’ve been around for 25 years. I think there’s lots of opportunity for stepping on landmines, for offending people, for getting wrapped up in something that goes sour. There’s lots of opportunity for failure. As long as we’re learning from those opportunities, and even those mistakes, then it’s not a risk in my opinion.
Chuck: I think that’s a good observation. I would add that sometimes it can feel, especially to external audiences, that we lose our way in some of these conversations because we must be so adaptable and meld ourselves to these differing circumstances. We have to always be aware that there are risks to doing this, otherwise, everyone would have that same approach. I want us to be cognizant of both the rewards and the risks of working that way.
Shannon: Chuck, I’m just going ask you to reflect on the past year now. What are some of the biggest impacts that you’ve seen come from Ecotrust Canada.
Chuck: Putting COVID aside it would have been a busy year, and then you throw COVID on top of it. I kept everyone maxed out in terms of what they’re delivering. I think we should all be proud of what we’ve been able to pull together.
I hate to pick favourites, but it’s easy to point to tangible stuff, like the kind of work that our Energy team is doing around heat pump installations, and the pivot this year to focus on the home energy security policy work, and the way they’ve brought those two things together. So that’s been satisfying to watch.
I’ve also been amazed with our Fisheries team. To have conversations with senior members of government, while at the same time maintaining relationships with the people who matter, the actual fish harvesters themselves, it’s just unparalleled. I don’t see any other organization in Canada making that kind of bridge. At the same time, we’re seeing success building on the policy environment for fisheries and creating programs around our fisheries monitoring that have a real and immediate tangible benefit for fish harvesters, particularly First Nations harvesters, on the BC coast.
Shannon: For both of you, what projects are you both excited about in 2021 and beyond?
Celine: Two of our programs, Home-Lands and Climate, are both exploring new projects and partnerships this year. I find that energizing. There are many threads that connect those two programs. And the Food Systems work is also exciting. To me, it’s a new program, one with lots of potential for connectivity. It’ll be exciting to see where we can take both land farming and ocean farming with our partners, and to see how they are connected. Within the context of COVID, I think Food Systems is so essential, and we have a great team working on it.
Chuck: I agree wholeheartedly. When I look at Food, Climate, Housing, and the integrative potential of all three, those are some of the most exciting initiatives we have to look forward to, and one of the reasons we brought Celine on to ramp up our ability to bring our individual programs more closely together. Whether that means together in one community, or together in some other geographic scope, is yet to be determined.
Having succeeded in the last couple of years, particularly in 2020, defining what our programs are while putting together strong leadership and capacity, and applying their work on the ground, the challenge becomes how do our teams and programs work together more effectively? That’s probably the most exciting task to look forward to in the years ahead.
Shannon: Great, thank you both. I’m going to shift gears a little bit. With the rise in social justice movements, what is the organization doing to take meaningful steps toward decolonization?
Chuck: I’ll just do a quick prelude to that — our focus on social justice, equality, and equity does not come as a result of this recent rise in social justice movements, which by the way is fantastic news for Canada and the world. For the past 25 years, it has always been at the core of our work, our vision, and our mission, and the work we deliver. Have we always done a great job of making sure it’s a central engine for our work? That’s waxed and waned over the years, but it’s always been there. With regards to how we work with Indigenous communities it has always been a primary motivator for our work. Now I turn to you Celine. We’ve hired you to help us make sure that we are developing and implementing very specific strategies and measures around these issues, and maybe I can ask you to reflect on where we’re headed with that.
Celine: We have practical plans around working with external facilitators and Indigenous decolonization professionals, and then there’s the mindset piece. I’m interested in both. I know that as a white lady I’ve got lots of blind spots, and so I want to make sure that I’m bringing in the perspectives, and the folks required to make sure that I’m not perpetuating. I’m being active in my anti-racism, anti-racist approach in our work and I think our job is to bring staff and board, and our community, along with us in that journey, wherever they are.
Other practical plans will be revamping our hiring practices and renewing our partnership agreements with the communities that we already work with. And the next time we create a partnership, or build relationships, we’ll look into how we build reciprocal decolonized relationships with community members.
I think is a huge priority for the organization, because so much of our relevance and success hangs on our ability to do that. I think the biggest piece, where this is going to show up, is in our strategic planning processes and how we fold decolonizing approaches into our strategic plan, and how we decide to come together in the future.
Chuck: I want to thank you for jogging my memory there. It’s easy for me to say we’re a social justice organization, so of course we work on equity, social justice, and racial justice — and that assumption can be a trap for us. I think that’s why we need to take these specific actions, like what Celine just pointed out, and challenge ourselves. Just because our website says we work on these issues that’s not enough. We need to make sure we are creating meaningful change to live up to those words. The proof is in the pudding. We will create a framework, we hope, that constantly challenges ourselves around these issues. Decolonization is an extraordinarily tough row to hoe, and it never stops. We can expect to always be faced with this challenge and we should wake up every day looking forward to it. That’s what I hope we create, the kinds of systems and frameworks that continually challenge us.
Celine: I am really excited about this coming year in the strategic planning and how we’re trying to weave our decolonization journey in that. It’s an opportunity to rethink how we work, and how we act, and how we dream as a team. So much of our mission sits in our understanding that the economic model that we are imbedded in everyday is colonial — and we want to disrupt that. We’re motivated by this, and we just need to name it. I think our path toward decolonization is the one that will help us get there.
Chuck: Absolutely. For us it can’t just be about an add-on. It’s not about just being better people or a better organization in how we show up, instead it’s fundamental to what we’re trying to do. As you put it Celine, we’re trying to disrupt and change an economic system that is rooted in colonialism, which is, in many ways, rooted directly in racism. When we take on the challenge of social justice, we take on the challenge of anti-racism and decolonization. Those are mission-driven needs for us.
Celine: There’s a quote that goes something like, “if you’ve come here to help me, then then leave, but if you’ve come here because you know that our liberation is tied together, then let’s get to work.” And I really feel that alignment in purpose.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” — by lilla Watson
Chuck: Just think about the three of us having this conversation right now, think about our governance. We have a long, tough path ahead to make decisions that change who we are, and that’s going to be difficult. I look forward to it, but again, the proof will be in the changes we make.
Shannon: I look forward to seeing that too. Now, reflecting on something you said last year Chuck. You wrote in a blog last year, when the pandemic first hit, “that it is our deteriorating economic system that will reverberate and intensify the damage out into our future.” I’m just wondering how your perspective has changed, or if it’s changed since then?
Chuck: Sadly, I would say that in this case, I would stand by those words. We’ve spent 14 months with people literally talking about making choices between the economy and people’s lives, like the economy is some separate thing that can be weighed against someone else’s life. It’s just ridiculous. The fact that that the pandemic has surfaced this strange dichotomy that people falsely create tells me everything I need to know about how the pandemic is affecting our perception about how we live, the role of the economy in it, and what might happen in terms of how we come out of the pandemic.
If we come roaring out of this pandemic hell bent on reinvigorating an economy that was exactly the same as it was before then we run the risk of having an even more aggressively extractive and divisive economy. Unfortunately, I think throughout the pandemic we’ve seen signs this is the most likely outcome.
The fact that the S&P 500 climbs at the same rate as pandemic deaths climb is the clearest indication that our economy is broken because it is so dissociated from the value of human life. I think we’re at an important pivot point where the case is being made that it is “ok” to have an economy that is totally disassociated from the well-being of most of the people in the world.
Shannon: On that thread, this is to both you, what kind of economic system do you think we need, as communities begin to recover and eventually emerge from the pandemic?
Celine: I don’t entirely know. My hope is that we emerge from the pandemic with the greater appreciation of the actual value of relationships and community. I think community is what underpins our needs. Our ability to care for ourselves, and each other, and our mental health, is so embedded and interwoven with community. I’m interested in asking and exploring with communities what relational, place-based economies mean in their bioregion or in their place. I know there’s so much work happening across this country on the ground and in communities where people are working toward that sort of wholehearted, holistic, ecosystem-based work that’s happening, that will inevitably transform the way we think of economics.
Chuck: I think you put it really well. A community that emphasizes that which is more local centred, and through that an economy that’s ultimately more resilient, more democratic, and more transparent, and through that build an economy that’s ultimately more resilient, more democratic, and more transparent. Sadly, that’s the antithesis of what we see right now, which is this growing, faceless, monolithic kind of economy that runs right over you. What we need is an economy that’s less focused on being extractive, and an economy that’s less focused on creating divisions between people, and instead an economy focused on bringing people together.
Let’s talk about the economic relationships that really count — the relationship between the people in a place, and the lands and waters of that place. That’s the most fundamental economic unit there is, and ought to be. And that’s the one we need to work on strengthening.
Celine: I’m putting my bet on northern communities to show us the way. There’s already so much fascinating informal economic systems that are working on the ground in places that are rural and remote. I think part of our role in shaping this story around what economy is emerging from the pandemic is really just daylighting what’s already happening that is built on reciprocity with others and with the landscape.
Chuck: I think that’s a solid bet.
Shannon: Well, this Q & A is coming to a close, is there anything else you want to add before we end this?
Chuck: I’m just going to add that I’m so grateful that Celine has come aboard because I think it comes at an important time for the organization. With your arrival, the staff who you are now mentoring get to take a huge leap forward. I think the organization is set to grow in a healthy way benefiting from your presence. I’m really looking forward to the years ahead working with you.
Celine: Thank you, Chuck. And as a gardener, I would say nothing can really grow without really good soil. So thank you and the team for attending to the soil.