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Kwagiulth Territory

Traditionally the northern part of Vancouver Island was known as Kwagiulth Territory. A huge area including the region north of the Brooks Peninsula to Cape Scott and from Campbell River north to the tip of Vancouver Island, as well as many of the islands east to the mainland around Kingcome Inlet. Several language groups lived in this area and are known as the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. The rainforest of Mi’wer’la (Big Island) provided for the Kwakwaka’wakw people for thousands of years before Europeans arrived seeking furs and other treasures.

  KWAXSISTALLA – Chief Adam Dick was raised in Kingcome Inlet and taught by his grandparents along with the trained Clan Chiefs of his Nation. He was purposely kept from the residential school system in order to ensure full fluency in Kwagiulth ceremonial traditions. He is one of the last remaining fully-trained specialists in the Kwagiulth Territory. His life has been committed to the cultural work of his people. He has organized and spoken at potlatches for most of the chiefs of his Nation.

Kwaxsistalla, Clan Chief Adam Dick of the Kawadillikalia (Wolf Clan) of the Dzawadaineuk of Kingcome Inlet

Some of the projects Kwaxsistalla has worked on include: filming the traditional story of the Clam Gardens; travelling for the museum abroad to identify artifacts; principal informant for the Kwakwala language program for School District 72; overseeing the writing and construction of props and the choreography of the Legend of Kawadillikalla for the opening ceremonies of the XV Commonwealth Games in 1994. He was the principal cultural advisor for the Native Participation Committee at the Commonwealth Games. He has recently been nominated for the Eco Trust Award for his efforts to educate people about traditional respect for the environment which provides for his people.

Each time that I entered the Klaskish during the making of “RAINFOREST – The Limit of SpIendour” I first asked permission from the Quatsino First Nation (Kwakwaka’wakw people) to enter their ancestral territory.  It is estimated by archeologists that approximately 10,000 people inhabited the area around the Klaskish prior to contact with Europeans. Carbon testing at several village sites dates back 10,000 years.  Fur traders, who came for the much-prized Sea Otter pelt, brought disease, which devastated the population of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.  Those that survived were relocated in a Federal reserve allotted by Commissioner O’Reilly in 1886 at Quatsino where 150 of their descendants live today.


One Valley over from East Creek the logging road looks daunting


Aerial Gardens in the Canopy

Suspended at great heights in the canopy of the most remote ancient rainforest on Vancouver Island, are ecosystems evolved over millennia, aerial gardens that provide habitats for a host of plants, insects, birds, and animals. As a tree grows it collects debris in most nooks and crannies of its structure.

60 meters (180ft) above the forest floor in the canopy of an ancient Sitka Spruce

Needles, leaves, bits of wood, and other organic matter falls from above or is blown by the wind to gather in the crotches of branches. Over centuries this build-up of material attracts microscopic insects, which help to decompose vegetable matter, creating soil.  Carpenter ants, mites, and termites help to add material by breaking down wood. Seeds are brought by birds and other means and begin to sprout in these pockets of soil that are suspended in the tops of the trees.  Slowly, gardens begin to develop as mold, lichen, moss, liverworts, fungi, mushrooms, and ferns flourish.  Small shrubs such as huckleberry, blueberry, and salal grow out of these mossy mounds. Cones fall onto these aerial gardens and small seedlings of hemlock, cedar, and yew begin to grow many meters above the forest floor. These aerial gardens become active and complex ecosystems, where flowers grow, attracting bees and other insects.  Carpenter ants ‘farm’ the eggs of aphids, which they store during the winter and then plant in the aerial gardens. The aphids feed on the leaves of plants and are milked by the ants for sugar-rich ‘honey dew.’

These mossy aerial gardens provide nesting platforms for many species of birds, many of which are endangered, including marbled murrelet, northern goshawk, peregrine falcon, pygmy owl, western screech owl, bald eagle, varied thrush, purple martin, and hummingbirds. Several species of woodpeckers create cavities high up in the canopy, which provide nests for red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, and winter wren. Species of rare endangered bats like Keen’s long-eared and Townsend’s big-eared, inhabit cracks in the bark or wood caused by splitting of the trunks. Reptiles like the diamond-backed salamander, western tree frog, and the rough bellied newt live in the canopy gardens. Mammals like squirrel, marten, raccoon, and cougar access, live, and hunt in the forest canopy.

Ecologist Dr. Zoë Lindo

A 2011 study by Dr. Zoë Lindo, shows that large, ancient trees may be very important in helping forests grow. These findings highlight the importance of maintaining the large old-growth trees in the coastal temperate rainforests that stretch from Southern Alaska to Northern California. Lindo’s findings suggest that it is the interactions between old trees, mosses and cyanobacteria, which contribute to nutrient dynamics in a way that may actually sustain the long-term productivity of these forests.

Dr. Zoë Lindo has discovered 138 new species of insect found only high up in the canopy of the Temperate Rainforest

Conservation of biodiversity is a major issue in ancient temperate rainforests of British Columbia. Dr. Lindo has spent the past decade climbing into the canopy of the ancient rainforest on Vancouver Island to study soil deposits and has discovered 138 new species of insects found to live only high up in ancient trees. While significant efforts have been made to document species of birds and mammals, little is known about canopy arthropod communities in British Columbia. Microhabitats (suspended soils) within canopy systems of temperate rainforests support diverse microarthropod communities, dominated by mites of the suborder Oribatida. These oribatid mite communities are distinct from forest floor communities, contribute significantly to overall forest biodiversity, and are functionally important components of forest ecosystems.

Dr. Lindo is a biodiversity scientist with a background in community and terrestrial ecology specializing in soil and detrital systems who has over ten years taxonomic experience in the field of acarology, specializing in the suborder Oribatida.  It is her goal to shed light on the amazing diversity of soil life and their contributions to greater ecological processes.

Aerial Garden growing 60 meters (180ft) above the forest floor

Biologists with a variety of disciplines are gathering samples high up in the trees and upper canopy of the temperate rainforest along the west coast of Vancouver Island by rigging ropes into the tops of trees, setting traps, and take core samples repeatedly over the course of several years. Entomologists from the University of Victoria have discovered more than 125 insects that have never before been identified. The Marbled Murrelet, a rare and endangered seabird, has been observed with great interest by scientists since it was discovered in the early 1990s that this species nests only in the tops of ancient trees. Members of a research field team use radar, direct observation, and sound recording equipment to record numbers of birds flying into and out of coastal watershed rainforests.  Once nests are located, biologists climb up into the canopy to secure live-in hammock-tents in order to observe a chick until it flies back to the ocean for the first time.

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