Six million young people from every corner of the globe and from every walk of life chose to learn about the plight of an endangered bear – Canada’s white Kermode, also known as the spirit or ghost bear.
The lessons they learned dared them to listen to diverse, divergent perspectives ensuring that their collective voices did more than shine a light on a problem, but offered up solutions of their own.
Their solutions were imperfect, just like the movement, but when all was said and done, they helped create the conditions that saved the bear.
It was a campaign that never sought to create enemies. By working to heal the wounds that divide, this movement was able to work collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to create a lasting solution that could make every Canadian proud.
With the spirit bear saved, the Youth Coalition was able to put itself out of business, for it completed its mission, but its legacy remains. When we learn, listen and act, anything is possible.
It’s this enduring belief that inspired Jill Cooper – an accomplished educator – and Simon Jackson – an award-winning storyteller – to spend nearly a decade immersed in the Canadian landscape, documenting the remarkable stories of the nation’s biodiversity. Throughout their journey, they’ve travelled to small town Saskatchewan and big city Toronto and everywhere in-between to share their tales and listen to what Canadians think about nature.
Nature unites us all. By making the seemingly irrelevant relevant, it’s possible to showcase that nothing is black and white and, through better education, a more thoughtful and engaged citizenry is possible – one that intrinsically knows that nature matters.
It’s this journey that informed this ideal and it’s this ideal that is the foundation on which Ghost Bear Institute is built.
Building on the legacy of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition’s two-decade journey that helped save Canada’s Kermode bear, Ghost Bear Institute – like the campaign itself – seeks to inspire, educate and spark a new generation to foster a better balance between people and nature.
Our belief is that too few people have a grounding, personal connection to the land and, far more troubling, even fewer have been schooled in the relationship between nature and cultural diversity, healthy communities and a strong economy.
We believe that a generational shift is needed in our understanding and appreciation for nature and only in the doing can we unite all Canadians to work toward a common purpose of a better nation for all life.
After all, nature is a fundamental building block of life, transcending politics, geography and age. Canadians need to be inspired to put aside their differences and engage in hard conversations, be open to thinking critically about the problems at hand and, together, rally behind promising solutions that allow innovation to trump compromise.
Ghost Bear Institute was founded to advance this vision and is underpinned by storytelling that provokes thoughtful dialogue and educational efforts that nurture a deeper sense of connection to, and shared ownership of, the issues facing Canada’s biodiversity.
As such, we will strive to share better stories of our natural inheritance, engage all Canadians in direct conversation about how we can work together collaboratively and create immersive experiences that allow for individuals to rethink their role in our nation.
Most critically, we will tie together each of these threads by working diligently to equip teachers with the tools to deconstruct the complex and enliven the obscure; to help students understand that we’re a nation of ecosystems and that each one offers an accessible waypoint to tangibly assess the impact of our behaviour.
And when will we know that we’ve succeeded in putting ourselves out of business?
When thousands of teachers gain access to critical resources that enable them to deliver better education.
When hundreds of thousands of students are learning to understand and appreciate nature – and put that knowledge into practice by designing newer, better ideas for moving forward.
When millions of Canadians support nature literacy in the classroom and when millions of Canadians act with a foundation of nature literacy, making our environmental discourse constructive and productive.
This is our dream. We hope it’s yours too. Together, let’s make it a reality.
For a decade, Jill worked to create connections between technology and nature as a high school geography and media arts teacher, promoting experiential education and leading numerous excursions, including a science-focused field trip to Nicaragua.
When she found resource gaps, Jill worked to fill them – first off the side of her desk and eventually in the full-time pursuit of system-wide education resource development. Jill has advised the establishment of a school council for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada and helped design of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition’s award-winning education program. And for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity she worked to build a new multi-faceted training program that seeks to better equip teachers to execute STEAM techniques.
No matter the project, Jill’s hallmark has been an approach that strives to be fair in her research and communication: Presenting unbiased facts to ignite a passion in others to think critically, work collaboratively and demand better of themselves and our world.
For each endeavour Jill has journeyed, she has proven an understanding of how to develop innovative programming from development to curriculum integration to classroom implementation. It’s this unique insight that is at the heart of the Ghost Bear Institute’s projects.
At the age of 13, Simon founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition in the quest to unite the voice of young people to save Canada’s endangered white Kermode or spirit bear. Through the Youth Coalition, Simon led the campaign that helped raise international awareness about the plight of the rare bear, transforming the organization into the world’s largest youth-led environmental movement with a global network of more than 6 million in over 85 countries.
After almost two decades of work, the spirit bear is now saved, with its last intact habitat having been set aside from development through one of the largest land protection measures in North American history.
Simon has received several honours for his work to save the spirit bear, including being awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, being named as one of the 100 Angels of the Earth by UNESCO and, most notably, being honoured as one of Time Magazine’s sixty Heroes for the Planet – one of only six young people selected from around the world. His life’s work was the focus of an internationally televised movie, Spirit Bear: The Simon Jackson Story.
Simon is an accomplished motivational speaker with agency Speakers’ Spotlight and an award-winning photographer and a widely published writer. Having contributed images and chapters to eight books, he has also had hundreds of essays and opinion editorials published in newspapers, magazines, academic journals, web sites and textbooks around the world – many underpinned by his photography. Simon has served as a columnist for CBC.ca and the Huffington Post and recently co-authored the book A Geography of Hope: Saving Primary Forests. His writing led him to being named a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers.
His varied work has enabled Simon to travel coast-to-coast-to-coast to share the lessons from his journey, as his powerful story is a reminder that one person can make a difference. Indeed, Simon’s storytelling ability, combined with his understanding of how successful movements are built, underpins the work of the Ghost Bear Institute.