Sometimes Teaching Is a Day at the Beach

SEAS Community Initiative

Empowering First Nation Youth


The Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) Initiative engages hundreds of students per year from indigenous communities in Canada. A partnership between The Nature Conservancy and local communities, SEAS reconnects youth with their natural surroundings both in and out of the classroom. Through hands-on experiences and on-the-ground research, these young leaders learn firsthand how their communities and cultures are tied to the surrounding landscape.

Today, we sit down with Johanna Gordon-Walker, the full-time SEAS coordinator in the small coastal community of Bella Bella, British Columbia, who was recently honored with the award for Outstanding K–12 Teacher by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM).
"Kids don’t think of it
as learning when they’re
outside exploring,
but it is"

- Johanna Gordon-Walker, SEAS Instructor

Congratulations on your recent award! Tell us about it.

Johanna Gordon-Walker:

Well, I think I was nominated by one of my colleagues who helped organize this spring’s Central Coast teacher’s conference. We started the conference two years ago to connect teachers from a number of remote B.C. Coastal communities. During the conference, educators—many of them new to the region—have the chance to network and share ideas and resources that can help build successful programs. It was a nice surprise when the EECOM called to say I won the award for outstanding K-12 teacher! I thought it was inspiring that someone had noticed our unique program.

What’s so great about SEAS?

Johanna Gordon-Walker:

The program really gets kids excited about learning outdoors and lets teachers take lessons ‘outside the box.’ The curriculum can also expand beyond science to include lessons in all types of subjects like reading, writing and traditional knowledge. For example, we did a unit on wolves this winter where 6th and 7th graders got to explore the species through science activities — like measuring and comparing wolf metrics to human equivalents…How far can they smell? How much do they weigh? How much territory do they use? Tying the learning back to kids’ everyday lives, we closed the unit with students brainstorming action plans for issues that impact wolves and other species in the Great Bear Rainforest.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Johanna Gordon-Walker:

Being outside with the kids. It takes a lot of work and organization, but is so rewarding. Kids don’t think of it as learning when they’re outside exploring, but it is. SEAS also offers opportunities for kids who might not otherwise get much of a chance to explore their traditional territory. Some of my favorite activities are taking students on nature walks in the forest and the annual trip to see the herring spawning.

Has SEAS made an impact in the community?

Johanna Gordon-Walker:

Absolutely. Some of our goals are so long-term that it’s challenging to see a difference in just three years, but I do notice a change in the students and families. More and more community groups are organizing opportunities for students and families to get out and explore the land. In fact, this year, the Bella Bella Community School is proud to be taking part in Canada’s “Take Me Outside Day” where students at participating schools will spend at least one hour of the day outside. Our project is an outdoor art gallery that takes classroom learning to the beach; here kids and teachers will construct artworks out of the natural materials they find. Some classes are so excited about the project that they plan to spend the whole day outside. It just goes to show that once you start giving people the opportunity they’ll take it on as their own.


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