How a First Nation town's kids nearly lost then re-found their identity.

Right now, the kids of Bella Bella seem to be doing pretty great.

Photo from Qqs Project Society, used with permission.

Bella Bella is a small town on an island off the coast of British Columbia, surrounded by the Great Bear Rainforest. You could walk from one end of the town to the other in about 15 minutes. The only way in is by boat or plane.


The town is part of the native Heiltsuk Nation, and the kids there get plenty of opportunities to connect to their heritage and lands because of this. During the fall, for example, the town hosts a salmon festival, and kids learn to fillet, smoke, and barbecue the large, snaggle-toothed fish. At other times, they might go out into the rainforest or learn traditional stories.

Yep: all in all, Bella Bella looks pretty awesome.

But it hasn't always been this way.

In the early 1970s, Bella Bella was in a bad way. The local fishery, the town's main source of income, was failing. There were deep social problems and alcoholism.

Worse yet, the town's very identity as Heiltsuk was under attack. For decades, the Canadian government had been banning key cultural ceremonies and removing kids from their homes or placing them in often-abusive residential schools in an attempt to Europeanize them.

A residential school circa 1945. Students were often severely punished if teachers caught them expressing their native culture or speaking their native language. University of Algoma/Wikimedia Commons.

The teenagers in the town weren't immune to this one-two punch. With a fractured culture, a general feeling of distrust of anything to do with the government, and few job prospects, only about one student in 50 was completing school. Maclean's reports that the town had one of the highest youth suicide rates in the country.

Why? Because when you set out to destroy a people's identity, it makes it hard for that community to flourish.

The town realized that in order to help their kids, they had to bring back that sense of identity and history.

One of seeds of this change was a government worker named Larry Jorgenson. Jorgenson had previously helped reorganize Alberta's mental health department, and Bella Bella hoped he could help them too.

Photo from Qqs Project Society, used with permission.

Upon arriving, Jorgenson immediately set out helping to restore the kids' fractured connection to their territory, taking them out on long boat trips or helping them build cabins. He even persuaded local law enforcement to let youth offenders serve their sentences in the cabins — a traditional practice — rather than sending them to detention centers.

They did this for years. And in the 1990s, they gave these efforts an extra edge. The town and Jorgenson (who had since moved to Bella Bella and married into the Heiltsuk community) started the nonprofit Qqs Project Society. Pronounced "kucks," Qqs (which means "eyes") runs a science and cultural camp that helps kids connect to their heritage.

The program helps teach kids cultural traditions, gets them out of their comfort zones and into the wild, and brings in scientists, instructors, and local experts to teach the kids about the islands and coasts that make up their home.

Today, Bella Bella is a very different place.

Graduation rates top 85%. If you visited, you'd see that the kids seem to be doing well. There are still some social problems, but it's a remarkable recovery from the dark times of the early '70s.

Jess Housty, communications director at Qqs and Jorgenson's daughter, says one of the coolest things is that a lot of the kids who were originally helped by Jorgenson and Qqs are now coming back as adults to work as camp counselors, community leaders, researchers, and resource managers.

The town itself seems to be doing better, too. The Heiltsuk have taken over local resource management, and ecotourism is bringing in new revenue. People are coming from all over the world to see the Great Bear Rainforest, its grizzlies, and the rare white Kermode bears.

The Kermode bear, or spirit bear. Photo from iStock.

Identity is a huge part of community, but we often don't think about it.

There are many other communities around the world like Bella Bella that are also dealing with this problem of reclaiming their identities.

But Bella Bella shows that when people are able to reconnect to both their heritage and the world around them, amazing recovery is possible.

If you've never seen a Maori haka performed, you're missing out.

The Maori are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and their language and customs are an integral part of the island nation. One of the most recognizable Maori traditions outside of New Zealand is the haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge usually performed in a group. The haka represents the pride, strength, and unity of a tribe and is characterized by foot-stamping, body slapping, tongue protrusions, and rhythmic chanting.

Haka is performed at weddings as a sign of reverence and respect for the bride and groom and are also frequently seen before sports competitions, such as rugby matches.

Here's an example of a rugby haka:

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

Keep Reading Show less
via WFTV

Server Flavaine Carvalho was waiting on her last table of the night at Mrs. Potatohead's, a family restaurant in Orlando, Florida when she noticed something peculiar.

The parents of an 11-year-old boy were ordering food but told her that the child would be having his dinner later that night at home. She glanced at the boy who was wearing a hoodie, glasses, and a face mask and noticed a scratch between his eyes.

A closer look revealed a bruise on his temple.

So Carvalho walked away from the table and wrote a note that said, "Do you need help?" and showed it to the boy from an angle where his parents couldn't see.

Keep Reading Show less
via Good Morning America

Anyone who's an educator knows that teaching is about a lot more than a paycheck. "Teaching is not a job, but a way of life, a lens by which I see the world, and I can't imagine a life that did not include the ups and downs of changing and being changed by other people," Amber Chandler writes in Education Week.

So it's no surprise that Kelly Klein, 54, who's taught at Falcon Heights Elementary in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, for the past 32 years still teaches her kindergarten class even as she is being treated for stage-3 ovarian cancer.

Her class is learning remotely due to the COIVD-19 pandemic, so she is able to continue doing what she loves from her computer at M Health Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minnesota, even while undergoing chemotherapy.

Keep Reading Show less