Frank Brown


American Indian Film Festival

Producer of "Voyage of Rediscovery"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Frank Brown was a Native youth headed for a juvenile detention center when his aunt intervened and asked the judge to sentence him to the traditional Native punishment of banishment. He spent his time alone on an island and credits the experience with changing his life. In 1986, he revitalized the canoe journey with the paddle to Vancouver's Expo 86. Subsequent journeys included the Paddle to Seattle and the 1993 canoe to Bella Bella with 23 canoe families. He is currently an ecotourism entrepreneur.


From article in Wavelength, December to January 2005

Located in the remote community of Bella Bella on BC's wild central coast, Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation is a leader in First Nations cultural ecotourism.

"There is a lot of future to cultural ecotourism," he says. "It's a way of keeping our traditions alive, while providing jobs and funding community development."

He and his wife Kathy meet the BC Ferries "Discovery Coast" ferry when it arrives in Bella Bella from June through September. They offer cultural presentations, feasts, tours, canoe expeditions, accommodation, and water taxi service for kayakers.

Frank has even built an interpretive centre with exhibitions on the history and culture of his people to orient visitors to the ancient culture of the central coast. He is now constructing the first traditional Heiltsuk Big House built in over 150 years and building a world class ecotourism lodge incorporating traditional Heiltsuk architecture.

The Heiltsuk people are also now in the process of conducting a joint Landscape Assessment report with the environmental organization Ecotrust, he reports, looking at tourism opportunities and impacts. A Strategic Tourism Plan with policies and guidelines will be forthcoming.

"The time is past when outsiders will come into our territory and scoop up lucrative resources while we're stuck on social assistance," says Frank. He is determined to bring employment to First Nations youth in his and other communities.

Introducing people to the wilderness and the ancient cultures which thrived there for thousands of years is nothing new for Frank. He has been teaching about the wilderness since the 1980s through his work with Rediscovery International, a program of wilderness education incorporating First Nations culture.

Based on his own experience of what he calls "the healing power of nature", Frank founded the Bella Bella Rediscovery program, and served as President of the Rediscovery International Foundation for three years in the early 90s.

In 1993 Frank and his community hosted the historic Qatuwas "people gathering together" canoe festival, in which 23 great Canoes from Washington and BC were paddled to Bella Bella for an event which marked the return of the Canoe Culture to the coast.

The event was inspired in 1986 when the Heiltsuk carved a traditional canoe ("Glwa"-ocean going canoe) and then paddled under Frank's leadership, hundreds of miles from Bella Bella south to Vancouver's international Expo '86.

He describes being deeply moved by the experience. "There was something very primordial about paddling the canoe. I could feel my lineage back to my ancestors-it was like paddling back in time."

"Our bodies developed a natural rhythm which was in synchrony with the past. We discovered ancient canoe skids, old campsites. I started wanting others to experience the view of the land and sea through the eyes of our ancestors, as I had."

In 1989, when he participated in "Paddle to Seattle", Frank issued a challenge to First Nations paddlers to meet in four years in his community of Bella Bella. This evolved into a great canoe celebration which came to be known as 'Qatuwas'-"people gathering together."

The Qatuwas gathering was filmed by the National Film Board of Canada (with Frank as Associate Producer). The award-winning video, which followed crews to Bella Bella and showed the great welcome they received from the entire community, can be purchased from the NFB (1-800-267-7710) or accessed through the public library system in Canada.

In the years following, the movement back to the great canoes has spread. In 1994, First Nations canoes entered Victoria Harbour in celebration of the Commonwealth Games. This was followed by canoe journeys to La Push and then Puyallup Washington, drawing paddlers from around Washington and British Columbia.

In 1997 the great canoes again entered Victoria Harbour for the North American Indigenous Games. Also in 1997, Frank was our guest at the WaveLength Ocean Kayak Festival at Royal Roads University in Victoria where he gave presentations on the Qatuwas gathering. He participated there in the ceremonial blessing of the great VisionQuest canoe journey sponsored by the RCMP, using a native style canoe made by Western Canoeing and Kayaking. The journey raised funds for a treatment centre soon to be established on Vancouver Island.

Last year's canoe journey to Ahousat (Frank's wife Kathy's home village) in Clayoquot Sound saw over 40 canoes and some 4000 people participate. In the year 2000, a canoe gathering will be held in Tahola, Washington by the Quinault Nation, followed by a gathering in Squamish, BC in 2001.

With the great canoe revival well underway, Frank's main focus these days is to prove that First Nations cultural ecotourism can succeed, through his business SeeQuest Adventures. In preparation for this, he studied outdoor recreation management, small business and tourism management, and cultural tourism at various post secondary institutions.

Recently SeeQuest Adventures was selected in 1999 as a "Best Case" example of sustainable tourism by Simon Fraser University's Tourism Policy and Research Centre. And Frank was recently nominated as one of the top 40 Canadians under 40 years of age in a by the national media.

Also in 1999 he received an award of recognition for his work in the traditional canoe resurgence from the BC Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture and Heritage BC. As he says, "Last year was good for us!"

Frank has also trained native youth from several different First Nations and continues to be a model for native peoples all along the coast looking to diversify to tourism.