By Kade Moroney, Community Organizer

I have been working at the West Kootenay EcoSociety for about 3 months now, and it has been amazing to have the opportunity to continue my work in social and environmental justice in a new capacity. Before being hired as a Community Organizer, I was working as a mental health worker on the unceded Coast Salish Territory of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ nations, also known as Victoria. I started doing this work because I saw a need for mental health and housing support in my neighbourhood. With an opioid overdose epidemic amidst a housing crisis compounded by a pandemic, I felt like I needed to do something. 

Watching people come up against barrier after barrier; whether it be access to a warm safe place to sleep, holistic health care that doesn’t penalize those with addictions, or over-policing of the entire community, working within current systems was incredibly disheartening for me at times. Despite the many challenges those living and working in the community face, every day there were little wins that kept me going. One person, in particular, showed me the value of the work we were doing and how it was worth the heart-ache. My incredible co-worker and friend Bernice stands 5 feet tall with long grey hair that almost touches the ground. She’ll never let you know her age but she has been doing this work her entire life. I was so moved by her openness and her own story of being unjustly taken away from her mother as a baby and being raised by nuns, then claiming her identity as an Indigenous woman and fighting for Indigenous voices throughout her life. She not only lends her voice, her passion, and her fight to all who need it, as a true grandmother would, she also always has a big purse full of treats for anyone who wants them. You can’t walk down the street with Bernice without hearing her name called by so many community members to say hello, ask how their housing application is coming along, or just to have a cigarette— somehow Bernice always has something for everyone. 

Bernice taught me not to be afraid to take on a challenging fight. Together, we advocated for an Indigenous elder who had been assaulted in the hospital by security when he was being forced into withdrawal and feeling very unsafe and unwell. It was not an easy fight; we came up against a lot of push back in making sure his story was heard by the right people in the system. Finally, a proper review of what lead to his situation was conducted; we are still waiting to learn the outcome, but at least it hasn’t been dismissed and forgotten about. This situation felt so unfair and infuriating and the process to work towards justice was not easy. But Bernice showed me that through coming together, speaking up, and not taking no for an answer, we can hold people accountable and make sure everyone in our community feels like their voices, lives, and experiences matter. 

I wouldn’t be where I am today without Bernice. Now that I have moved back to the Kootenays, and joined the EcoSociety, I see that we are also at the frontline in the fight for the health and energy futures of our communities and that we need to do something about it. I want to ensure clean water, clean air, clean food, and communities that care for each other. I want to hold big industries accountable so that the interests of some are not being held above others’ health, safety, and autonomy. I want to make sure everyone in our community has a chance to have their say, and that we lift voices that have been systemically silenced. I want to make sure that we acknowledge and reconcile with the First Nations whose land we live on and benefit from.

It might seem like the path to the future we deserve is hurdled with many challenges, yet I believe that together we are stronger. We can lift each other up and continue working towards what is right and fair. I know we can do it because we have already come so far. I am so proud to be a member of the EcoSociety. I am so impressed with the work that has been done with the 100% Renewable Kootenays Plan, where nine Communities across the West Kootenays have committed to this goal by 2050. Kaslo, Warfield, and Rossland have officially adopted the plan, and I’m hopeful that more will officially adopt this plan in the upcoming months! I want to work with you to continue this fight, and I want to make sure that many more people can join, so we can have different perspectives and approaches when thinking about our futures. Will you join me and your local volunteer team and support your community working towards a healthier, cleaner, safer today and tomorrow?