I have had the chance to talk with Bruce and Brenda Miller a few times over the years and have always enjoyed those conversations – they’ve always struck me as being dry-humoured, genuine and incredibly creative people, with no shortage of amazing ideas. They were the first farm to experiment with the just-started CSA (community-supported agriculture) harvest boxes, they pioneered a transition from conventional potato growing to organic, they provided the potatoes for Pemberton’s organic vodka distillery when spirits-experts were still pooh-poohing Tyler Schramm’s brilliant idea to make vodka from potatoes, and they started the first farm brewery… This summer, after providing many much-needed refreshments and some fresh air for Beer Farmers guests, they wrapped the season with a $1000 donation to the Pemberton Food Bank.
Recently, they’ve also been awarded recognition from the province of BC as a “Century Farm” – as part of a program to “honour agricultural organizations that have been active for a century or longer, as well as pioneers whose farms and ranches have been in families for 100 years or more. Each Century Farm Award celebrates the rich heritage of farming and ranching families and organizations in B.C.” (which I can’t help but think is one of the province’s more tone-deaf initiatives.)
I didn’t share that news here, on the Wellness Almanac, because the language in the news releases from the province made me flinch. It felt awkward to acknowledge the farm, the family and it’s heritage, and ignore the fact that this area is all unceded traditional territory for the Lil’wat Nation. And that 100 years ago, that was even more live.
This is the ongoing conversation we’re all living. How do we hold both these stories?
Increasingly, I’m drawn to the idea that we need to move away from the binary, the either/or, the idea that one truth must win, must cancel the other one out. Generative thinking is so needed. We need to be able to hold two apparently conflicting ideas – I can experience joy and be grieving, I can be the descendant of settlers (who emigrated to Australia in the 1840s from all throughout the UK) and a boatbuilder for the Hudsons Bay Fur Company AND be an ally, I can feel weird about the word “white fragility” and still be committed to exploring and unpacking my own racism… We can honour a family and their roots and, more importantly, the work they are doing in the world today – and hold space for the fact that the ancestors of this place spoke Ucwalmictws, and that the way land was made available for settlement 100 years ago, in Canada, (and in Australia), and here, where we find ourselves making our homes, is really unsettling. It was made available through a nation-wide program of cultural genocide. There is that.
It might not feel elegant, holding these things. But it can be done.
And I don’t want to detract from the amazing things the Millers are doing, right now, right here. But I also don’t want to not speak or fail to acknowledge that there are other parts to every story that deserve acknowledgement, and that our failure to acknowledge them constitutes an ongoing oppression.
The Millers latest initiative has been to allow a portion of their land, the ‘largest remaining intact private valley-bottom parcels’ (as the Pique reported), to be purchased for the purposes of conservation.
Through the financial support of a host of funders, including the Government of Canada through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund, the Pemberton Wildlife Association, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Longhedge Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several individual donors, the 87 hectare property has now been acquired by The Nature Conservancy, protecting the mature and old growth forests, beaver-engineered wetlands and over 2 kms of riverfront land. It’s home to grizzly bear, cougar, deer, salmon, toads, owls, migratory birds and more…
Thanks to the Terrace Standard for reporting the story with this important context:
“The piece of undeveloped wet lands and old growth forest around the Ryan River is in the Líl̓wat First Nation’s traditional territory, and has been privately owned since by Bruce Miller’s family since 1911.
Nancy Newhouse, regional vice president for the Nature Conservancy in B.C. said they are in conversation with the Líl̓wat First Nation in whose traditional territory the land is, and look forward to working with the nation “based on the shared interests of honouring and conserving the land.”
Wetlands and old growth forest of cedar, hemlock and cottonwood trees are becoming rare in B.C. The area supports grizzly bears — which are threatened in the Squamish-Lillooet region — cougars, wolves and wolverines, along with migrating birds, trout, salmon, amphibians, beavers and more.
The nature conservancy will keep walking entrance paths open for anyone to explore the Ryan River Conservation Area, they will make an inventory of specific habitats and create a management plan. Some of their locations are made open to the public, but the primary goal is always conservancy of the ecosystem.”
As property prices in Pemberton continue to soar, and large tracts of land become life-rafts for the uber-wealthy from all around the world, it feels like a beautiful thing, to me, to see this wildscape protected from development, in perpetuity. And for Lil’wat to have the chance to walk this land again, and take up their culturally-dictated mission of being guardians and stewards of their territory.
May this act inspire many others to consider how they might bank wilderness… I believe there can be no better investment.