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Young woman prepares to live remotely in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Ista Oud, 19, plans to spend a year off-grid in Nuxalk territory

A young Bella Coola woman is preparing to live remotely and off-grid in Nuxalk territory for at least a year.

“I would like some space for myself to detach from all the things our society finds comfort in,” said Ista Oud, 19, who is a member of the Nuxalk Nation and graduated from Acwsaltca School in June 2023.

“I want to connect with the teachings I have learned from previous teachers.”

By early April she hopes to get dropped off by boat in an area known as Scw7cwlk (Skowquiltz) Valley in the Great Bear Rainforest, accessible from the Dean Channel.

There she will set up her base camp.

While she may have some visitors throughout the course of the year, for the most part she will be alone with her border collie puppy Sukwa, which means sugar in Nuxalk.

Last summer she did a two-month trial run and loved it.

“We built some trails there last year and my dad took me up to these waterfalls I’d never seen before. A friend of his who is a biologist was there doing some studies on the area because it was proposed to be logged in 1997.”

Her dad built a cabin there and today the area is untouched and has not been logged, she said, adding in the winter she will stay in the cabin.

Other than that, she plans to sleep outside under the stars.

“I dipped into the water every day,” she recalled. “Sometimes I did not want to, but we as Nuxalk people believe dipping in the water cleanses your body and your mind. Some days it was cold and rainy and I was shivering, but I went down and dipped in the river anyway.”

Weather on the Central Coast changes rapidly and sometimes it rained for two weeks straight with big downpours.

Realizing that could be the case often she knows gathering enough dry wood will be a big priority.

Oud’s ancestors had a village in the area, but many died because of smallpox.

“Part of my dream for my journey is to build connections with those places again. Some of our people went there in the 70s and 80s to go trapping and spend time there but it hasn’t been done in a long time because of the world we live in now with new technology.”

Bringing a canoe with her, she plans to do some travelling around the territory, hoping to visit some hotsprings and different islands.

All the money she saved working in a cafe last year will go toward food and gear.

Being on the land has always been healing for her.

Seeing wildlife is a given.

Referring to the grizzly bears and black bears she saw, she said they did not have a lot of aggression.

“I carry a lot of teachings from my father and grandmother about being smart with the bears.”

Sharing space with mice, bugs and owls, she enjoyed watching them and learning their cycles.

Mice would sleep with her if she didn’t get the wood stove started when she was staying in her dad’s cabin.

‘There were lots of eagles too, I could hear them singing in the morning.”

When she returned home after being out on her own last summer, she was often asked if she was scared.

“I stated that I believe the intention you set out when you go in the forest comes back to you. The animals don’t want to hurt you - they have fear like we do.”

While she has seen signs of deer, she has not been “lucky enough” to see a wolf yet.

“My dad talks about there being a pack of wolves that comes there in the fall time so I am hoping I will see them this fall. I have not had the chance to be out there in winter time so I am really excited.”

By July she hopes to travel to Kimsquit, further north up the Dean Channel, to a discovery camp held there each summer for Nuxalk youth.

Growing up she went there every year, because her mom Joyce Webber has worked there for 25 years.

Her dad, Jesse Oud, she described as her rock, adding he has been her biggest support.

Members of the community have also been donating supplies such as tea, rice and gas money.

She is inviting community members to join her out on the land to sit at the fire, enjoy a drink of tea in the fall or help build some structures, such as a wood shed.

“I want to learn from anyone who comes out and visits me.”

Oud said there are companies logging on the Central Coast and others looking for resource opportunities.

“That is part of the reason I want to bring more people there. I am calling out the people. We have been in that small town of Bella Coola, but we have roots that go through all the territory. If we are on the land I believe we have a better chance of protecting it.”

Growing up she felt as if she was straddling two worlds.

One was being able to see the beauty of her people and the teachings about how to take care of themselves - the other was dealing with trauma and PTSD.

She herself, embraced sobriety in January 2023, knowing that she needed to do that to move forward with her life.

Being out on the land has helped with that decision to be sober.

“I really believe the forest and the land are the best healers and teachers. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to go out there. We used to go there every year for my birthday.”

Aside from getting supplies ready for her venture, Oud has been gathering stories about ceremony and protocol that Nuxalk people followed when out living on the land.

“I just keep learning more and more about the territory and what different parts were used for.”

Throughout the year she plans to keep a journal, read and was recently gifted a camera for taking photographs.

Using a new Zoleo satellite communicator she will check in once a month so family will know she is OK.

Spending the year might be the catalyst to move out there permanently, she said.

“I will come back to see my family, but I just want to take it step by step and see how I feel.”

She has one older brother and two younger brothers.

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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