Who is the lone crusader seen climbing out of ditches and gathering wayward garbage along Highway 16? Witness accounts, social media posts, and phone calls to The Northern View resulted in the investigation as to who this highway hero is and what he is trying to accomplish.
While there was no superhero cape evident, Graham Abel had a glint in his eye as he spoke about his quiet endeavours for cleaning up the garbage along the stretch of highway just outside of Prince Rupert.
His goal he said, is to clean up all the way to Port Edward.
“What I’m doing is to help Prince Rupert grow and glow,” he said.
As a youth he grew up in Gitsegukla which means ‘People of the sharp point mountain,’ he said. Maternally he is from the Gitxsan Nation and his father was Objibway from Ontario. Graham said when he was three months old, and his brother was almost 16 months old they were given to his great aunt to be brought up learning traditional ways and customs.
“We were raised by her, and it was our duty as we were growing to keep busy, keep active. We would hang fish, collect fish, go chop wood, go hunting, go trapping. In the wintertime as the season changes, there was always something to do.”
Every year in the springtime they would volunteer themselves to beautify the outside of the communities and off the highways to upkeep the natural essence of the forests. Graham wants to continue that around Prince Rupert.
One hundred per cent completing the feat by volunteering his time alone, he started cleaning up garbage in his own neighbourhood near Eight Ave. East making it to Industrial Road in just five days.
He said at that point he had collected just under 20 garbage bags full of items, some of which he estimates had been there for a couple of years. His best find so far was a $50 bill wrapped around a stick and the saddest was an eagle which appeared to have perished from electric shock.
The 33-year old worker at Tidal Coast said he drives to work each morning dismayed at the amount of garbage he sees on the side of the road and wanted to make the community a little cleaner and greener.
At Tidal Coast he has worked his way up from being a banderman where he collected data on log numbers and species, to a graderman where he now grades the logs.
When asked what made him chose a logging career, he said he didn’t ‘choose’ it, it naturally chose him.
“I was raised in an isolated area, always around forests. Everything that was involved was natural with sustainable activities.
“We lived off the land cutting wood, going hunting, going fishing,” he said. “It was a family tradition to go goat hunting every year.”
Graham said it would take him and his family members two days just to reach the mountain goat trail where his traditional family territory is.
“It’s protected land. We do a lot of activities such as berry gathering, sacred medicine gathering with species that only grow in the mountains.”
He said for the first 16 to 18 years of his life every day they lived off the land gardening, hunting moose, rabbit and grouse. In the summertime, it was inland fishing and collecting more than 60 truckloads of wood for every sister and brother. His great aunt had 12 children in total including Graham and his brother Victor.
Back in 2005, Graham attended university to study geography and anthropology.
‘I’m pretty much a green thumb,” he said. “I love things green. I love it clean. I love to grow and glow. I love things to be naturalized because as long as things grow we have to make sure it’s going to continue to be clean and self-sustainable. “
It’s concerning to him he has to pick up after other people and gives the example of mushroom picking in the forest. he said he had to clean up after others who have left a mess because ecologically life can be destroyed in a forest from the garbage and chemicals left behind.
As a father of five, he wants his children to grow up respecting Mother Earth for what she has given. He said the extinction of many species is near and freshwater is hard to come by. He said his children know that he has been cleaning up along the highway and collecting garbage from the water-filled ditches. His partner told The Northern View that what Graham is contributing to the environment and area is totally uplifting and good for the environment. She wishes more people would be doing it.
“We are not going to be in a healthy place if we don’t take care of the land where we live,” Graham said.
“It’s in our teachings and our customs that if we respect the land, then the land will respect us. What we take from the water, the water will take back. If you hate the wind, the wind will get stronger. I love the snow. I love the rain,” he said, even naming one of his sons ‘Rain’.
Graham hopes that people will think not only for themselves but for the generations to come.
“The chain reactions that one leads, will leave a trail. The trails that follow people will leave an imprint behind them,” he said. “And the imprint starts the ripple effect.”
“The choices we’re making today will lead by example for tomorrow. And this will have the ripple effect on people and the earth, so keeping it green and clean is very important.”
Graham’s final words that he wants people to remember about his highway clean up and his duty to nature are
“When we are green and clean we will grow and glow.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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