Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Axis Mudi Harvest festival speaker, has a message. Daughter of one of Canada’s most prominent environmentalist and humanitarian activist couples, Tara Cullis and David Suzuki, she has carved her own niche in the same fields.
“I’ve always been very inspired by my mom,” Cullis-Suzuki explains. “She walks the talk. When I was younger and angry at what was happening in the world, she had me translate that anger and reaction to action by helping me figure out what we could do about it.”
The ability to translate our knowledge of the atrocities going on around the world, be it a frightening environmental future or the horrific plight of refugees, to a sustained reaction and action is something Cullis-Suzuki hopes to inspire.
“I think we lose people, young people especially, to the idea they can’t do anything, when in reality, we can make a difference in the world,” she says. “We can have the conversation. What kind of lifestyle do we want? What kind of society? Then we can focus on alternatives to take us there.”
Recognizing the problems and solutions available to humanity is ultimately freeing and fulfilling, Cullis-Severn argues. She points out, “Humans exist in a paradigm where everything we do is destructive; there is no perfect eco-lifestyle, but there are pieces we can fit together.”
The idea of community and forging relationships is something in which Cullis-Suzuki believes. “The idea of fostering relationships, having farmers markets and growing herbs is vital. Knowing your neighbours, having a relationship with where your food comes from, even if it’s just having a relationship with your grocer,” she says.
An environmentalist, Cullis-Suzuki says people are often surprised to learn she loves to fish and that her husband hunts. “There is an urban, sanitized vision of what it means to be an environmentalist, where I should be a vegetarian” Cullis-Suzuki explains. “Do I think we need to limit consumption of mass produced meats? Yes. But we need to know where are food comes from, understand and respect the process. Animals and plants have to die for us to live.”
Cullis-Suzuki has lived in Haida Gwaii for the past eight years and works with First Nations Elders to revitalize their languages. “Ethnoecology is about understanding the plant and animal worlds and how they relate to indigenous world views,” she explains.
Indigenous languages speak of the natural world in a way that simply doesn’t translate. The loss of languages that offer more diversity for human understanding of what it means to be human is a ludicrous way of limiting our thinking, especially as we live in a world going through massive changes, believes Cullis-Suzuki. “Talk about making your box smaller, when we should be thinking outside of it,” she says.
“Our children will likely live in a time of food shortages and mass migrations,” she adds. “Syria, for example, has seen years of drought and food scarcity.”
It’s unrealistic, she believes, to pretend it won’t affect Canada. “We have a lot here and we need to make some hard decisions and start sharing,” she says. “We need to engage in this issue that will affect our children.”
It is clear that when it comes to making the world a safer and better place, Cullis-Suzuki walks her talk.