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.

The difference between a politician and a public servant may be a matter of semantics, but when it comes to getting legislation passed that actually helps people, the contrast is stark.

Texas Representative James Talarico is on a mission to get his constituents the life-saving medicine they need. The 31-year-old lawmaker has just introduced legislation that would cap the price of insulin—a medicine people with type 1 diabetes need to live, which has become unaffordable for many—at $50 a month.

The mission is personal for Talarico, as he nearly died three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

He shared his story on Twitter:

"In May 2018, I was a healthy 28-year-old running for the Texas House. I decided to walk the entire length of my district and hold town halls along the way. I hike Big Bend every year, so I wasn't concerned about a 25 mile walk...

But halfway through the walk, I began feeling nauseous and fatigued. Before the town hall in Hutto, I vomited in the bathroom."

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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