Speak to the Wild


The ongoing conversion of Canada from wilderness expanse to industrialized landscape has greatly accelerated in recent years and warrants public discussion.

Graphic by: tagxedo.com

Enter Speak to the Wild: a multi-disciplinary gathering dedicated to the politics and poetics of wilderness. Speak to the Wild was co-hosted by Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee (WGWHC), and took place on 4 – 8 September 2013 near Wells Gray Provincial Park, two hours north of Kamloops, in east-central British Columbia.

Roughly 60 people took part in Speak to the Wild. Headliners include several well known thinkers, writers and conservationists, including David Abram, Robert Bringhurst, Sharon Butala, Ted Chamberlin, Lorna Crozier, Trevor Herriot, Patrick Lane, Tim Lilburn, Faisal Moola, John Steffler, Candace Savage, Nancy Turner and Jan Zwicky.

Participants broadly considered two questions. The first question concerned the possibility of legal reform around the rights of wilderness: Is it time to move Canada’s constitution towards a formalized land ethic; and if so, what would that look like? The second question pertained to our personal connection to wild places: How can we strengthen this connection in ourselves and encourage it in others? In particular, what is the role of narrative and the poetic experience in developing a meaningful relationship with wild Canada?

The decision to mount Speak to the Wild was originally prompted by the on-going rapid decline of the now formally “threatened” Mountain Caribou – particularly in Wells Gray Provincial Park, which was established 74 years ago specifically to give them sanctuary: www.wellsgrayworldheritage.ca.

Mountain Caribou are the world’s most southerly reindeer, and the only one adapted to padding around in 2 to 3 m of snow and foraging hair lichens from the branches of trees. The fact that virtually all of these animals – 1400, down from 1700 five years ago – are resident in the inland mountains of south-central British Columbia makes them a fundamentally Canadian responsibility: a litmus test for Canada’s commitment to wilderness conservation.

As perhaps the most iconic animal in the mountain region of Canada, Mountain Caribou well exemplify the impact of current land use policies are having on Canada’s environment. To be sure, similar impacts are being felt across the country. Participants in Speak to the Wild will be asked to consider if at least protected areas shouldn’t be formally guaranteed the right to perform their primary ecological functions indefinitely.

But though it was the plight of the Mountain Caribou that initially catalyzed Speak to the Wild, the event itself has since taken on a life of its own and now covers a wide terrain around what has become its core theme: the nature of our contemporary relationship to wild places.

Look for more news on this website in the coming months.