Langley Kwantlen artist journeying to protest oil pipeline

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Artist journeying to protest pipeline

 

Fort Langley’s Brandon Gabriel is taking part in a three-month canoe trip along the B.C. Coast this summer, intent on bringing awareness to its fragile ecology and the potential dangers of an oil pipeline.

On June 1, the local artist will join friend and canoeing adventurer Chris Cooper on an excursion of a lifetime.

Gabriel will be part of a small team leaving the Kwantlen tribal lands and spending 90 days paddling 1,200-kilometres north along the B.C. coastline to the Alaskan border.

The 35-year-old painter has participated in a few canoe journeys with Cooper in past. But this trek – labelled the Spirit of the Coast – is a project closer to home, and closer to his heart.

It’s been almost two years in the making, and Gabriel and Cooper were elated to unveil the plans to Langley Advance readers this week.

“I partake in these canoe journeys because of the holistic approach we take,” Gabriel said.

“It’s a challenge for all parts of self: mind, body, soul, and mental faculties are all tested to their limits,” he explained, adding, “compounded by the fact that the purpose of this journey is to shed light on the pristine coastlines, fragile ecosystems, and the sustainability of remote and small communities that thrive on these shores, in spite of recent developments of proposed oil pipelines and increased oil tanker activity.”

“We have an obligation as citizens of the world,” he said, “to educate and inform people that the beauty of this place is not infinite, if we don’t look after it.

As an artist, as an educator, and a concerned citizen, I am motivated to take part in such an ambitious project, because the time is now.”

To date, the longest of Gabriel’s six canoe journeys was a “challenging stint” paddling five days and 45 kilometres from Harrison Lake to Ambleside Park.

“Each journey has its own challenges, the only thing that’s a constant is that you are not the same when each one is over,” he shared with the Langley Advance. “What differentiates this journey from all others, is the sheer length and time it will take to accomplish.

“Not many people can say they have navigated the entire coastline of B.C. in a non-motorized vessel, and to add to that, the important message that we are carrying with us, that the First Nations people have always done this for thousands of years, and that this way of life is still relevant and an important facet of life for First Nations and non-aboriginal people alike, is worth celebrating and shedding light on, despite notions that are steeped in corporate and political rhetoric that say otherwise,” he said.

He knows being away from his family for such a long stint will be difficult. He’ll also miss the comfort of his own bed, although he’ll bring along his favourite pillow.

But he’s going to have to miss much of season four of his favourite TV show, Game of Thrones. And the self-proclaimed social media addict will have to be unplugged for long stretches of time.

“I’m an Internet junkie, and spend a great deal of time communicating with the world through social media on a minute-by-minute basis,” he said. “It’s become an extension of who I am, in part because I am an artist, and communication is just part of what I do.”

Knowing he’s not going to hit many wifi hotspots out on the ocean, Gabriel is attempting to prepare himself for withdrawal symptoms.

Despite the sacrifices and special arrangements he’s had to make around art shows and commissions, to be free for the trip, Gabriel said he’s honoured to be part of this journey: “My nephew Emmett is just 16 weeks old, and I’m really sad I’m not going to see him for that length of time, but when it comes down to it, I’m doing this for him and all the other young people in my community. I want them to be proud that a Kwantlen [member] took part in something that has the possibility of being so transcendent and important to our times. It will be worth it.”

Also joining Cooper and Gabriel on the journey will be friends Kye Valongo, a fellow outdoor enthusiast from Orkney, Scotland.

Valongo is helping Cooper write an autobiography, is the webmaster for Cooper’s www.spiritdancercanoejourneys.ca, and will join Cooper and Gabriel in journalling and blogging during the trip.

The goal for the trek will be to educate, Cooper explained, noting a friend and videographer is coming along, sailing beside the canoe the entire trip, to capture their experiences.

A number of other supporters will join the three-member canoe team and videographer for short periods.

The Langley Advance is also proud to be partnering with the Spirit of the Coast project, and will be bringing readers regular updates in the newspaper, as well as links to video footage, photographs, and blog posts from the participants.

“We’re delighted to be involved,” said editor Bob Groeneveld. “Thanks to technology, readers will be able to learn all about Chris Cooper and his team, and follow along with them on this exciting and challenging.”

While it’s going to be a long trek that will take them a long distance from family and friends, Gabriel said, it’s a meaningful trip that he is greatly looking forward to.

In the coming weeks, in preparation for the trip, Gabriel will be increasing his workouts to improve his fitness.

“Some people are natural athletes and have to do very little training beforehand. Its been my experience as one of those people who are less of an athlete, to do proper training beforehand,” he said, noting that he’ll be working with a personal trainer.

He and his mates will also train with and test their equipment extensively. They know the undertaking involves risks, and they will reach out to about a dozen other First Nation groups they wish to visit with during the excursion.

• Stay tuned to the Langley Advance for more on the Spirit of the Coast project

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