I was thrilled to be part of the audience earlier this week when Rick Hansen, B.C.’s Man in Motion, gave the keynote speech to open the 7th International Symposium on Sturgeon. And I was doubly thrilled when Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was the keynote speaker this morning – the final morning of the symposium.

Like Hansen, Atleo is a thoughtful and inspirational speaker. And interestingly, he draws parallels between himself, as First Nations, and Hansen, as a person with a disability. He says that in speaking with Hansen, whom he considers a friend, they have both agreed that they struggle to be “seen” by others in the community.

Snuneymuxw elder Geraldine Manson offers a prayer at the opening ceremonies.

Snuneymuxw elder Geraldine Manson offers a prayer at the opening ceremonies.

But Atleo stresses that the time for First Nations in Canada is now. He says that with the help of traditional knowledge, “we’re experiencing a First Nations resurgence and renaissance.” His speech focused on indigenous rights and the conservation of sturgeon, a very important fish to First Nations across Canada.

In speaking of rights, Atleo says that education is key. Acknowledging Vancouver Island University, which is helping to put on this symposium, he says that universities must play a facilitating role, especially in this challenging time where there is a major skills gap. He adds that First Nations youth need to be supported, as there is “potential for indigenous values to shape the world around us.”

If we take what Atleo says to heart, and find a way to work together as he would like, then we’re at least taking the first step in the right direction.

Blog post written by Karen Horak, a writer-editor at the Vancouver Aquarium. She is in Nanaimo to cover the 7th International Symposium on Sturgeon. Titled “Sturgeon, Science and Society – at the Crossroads: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century,” this conference, hosted by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, is held every four years in cities around the world. Look for her blog posts, Facebook posts and Tweets this week.

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