We are deeply saddened to learn that naturalist Charlie Russell has passed away. The world has lost a hero at a time when there are too few.
If you don’t know of Charlie, do yourself the favour and read one of his books or watch one of his films. His life was dedicated to a belief that our relationship with the wild can and should be improved; that our understanding of bears is misguided, but not beyond repair.
Whether or not you fully agreed with all that Charlie stood for, you can’t disagree with his passion, nor his unwavering dedication to find a better way. And a better way he showed in the life of meaning he lived.
Charlie gave so much to so many and in ways that can’t and never will be fully quantified. He also gave me so much.
When I was only 14, I reached out to him for help and advice. I had only just discovered that the rare white Kermode or spirit bear existed in my home province. He was in the midst of living in this bears’ land, capturing the images and stories that would bring the plight of the spirit bear to life for me and millions of others.
Charlie (along with a few others, most especially including Wayne McCrory) was generous with his time and encouragement of a naive teenager who was stumbling into a world far more complex than realized. His belief in me – when so many refused to take my calls – was at the heart of why I felt empowered to not only do my part for the spirit bear, but to keep going when it seemed impossible to succeed.
Charlie’s road to give voice to bears around the world was long, difficult, and, undoubtedly, lonely. I saw what he did for the spirit bear. I saw how he wasn’t an insider and the cost that he had to pay. I saw how far too many of those involved in the issue purposely overlooked his role because of politics or envy. He never took the easy path.
Everything Charlie did for bears he did because he cared. It was never for the accolades and that’s what made him a dying breed of hero. He was Canada’s Jane Goodall. He was a brave thinker and, more importantly, doer. He proved time and again the power of storytelling and the power of an open mind. He underscored in all his acts that we should always demand better of ourselves and our world.
So today, on behalf of his beloved bears – those he loved, lost and still exist because of him – thank you. Thank for trying. And thank you for succeeding. May your legacy live on in all that is wild and free.