Paul Walde, Rande Cook & Kelly Richardson on stage at the Rifflandia Festival in Sept ’22

It would be difficult to imagine two more different audiences than those at Montreal’s COP 15 UN Biodiversity Conference and Victoria’s Rifflandia Music Festival, but both were on the schedule for the Awi’nakola: Tree of Life Foundation in 2022.

Founded by a group of Indigenous knowledge keepers, scientists and artists with a common commitment to create tangible solutions for the current climate crisis—and educate others through the process—Awi’nakola seeks to share cross-disciplinary research practices and develop ways to heal the planet, heal the people and change culture.

Led by Makwala Rande Cook—former UVic Audain Professor, Visual Arts MFA and hereditary chief of the Ma’amtagila First Nation—and Ernest Alfred, hereditary chief of the Tlowit’sis Nation, Awi’nakola (pronounced “A-weet-nah-kyoh-lah”) takes its name from a Kwak’wala word which loosely translates to being one with the land, ocean, air and all living forms. “When elders say this, it’s the embodiment of respect and relationship to all living things,” Cook explains.

But what began with five people in 2019 has now grown into an international group of more than 40, including Visual Arts professors Kelly Richardson, Paul Walde and Lindsay Delaronde.

In July 2022, Awi’nakola members spent a week in Kwakwaka’wakw territories documenting the loss of old-growth ecosystems—some of the last primary forests on the planet—and coming up with ways to communicate the severity of the loss to BC’s coastal rainforests. While there, the scientists conducted research that could one day help regenerate damaged forests, while the artists gathered imagery for future projects.

And in December 22, Cook and David Mungo Knox | Walas Namugwis (shown here) presented to the UN biodiversity summit COP 15. “We need radical change and that needs to come now,” Cook said in this Narwhal article following the summit. “We’re in a place right now where it literally is about the planet and we’re putting a timeline on the existence of humanity. For the health of all of us we need to make some real radical changes.”

The Awi’nakola Project is also working to secure exhibitions in locations where the BC government is known to purchase by-products of old-growth trees. Together, they are working collectively to build a better future for generations to come.

You can read more about their efforts in this story from The Ecologyst.