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Christie Harvie, Climber and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Negotiator

Talks about colonial mountain names, her passion for climbing and more

Christie Harvie was born in Snuneymuxw territory, Nanaimo, B.C., and started her career in the mountains in the wild alpine of Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Park. She loved the mountains, but since she and her friends had no training, success was elusive.

“There weren’t a lot of women in early to mid-90s who wanted to go into backcountry. It was usually two guys and myself traipsing up stuff,” she says, “badly getting handed our butts on Arrowsmith and exploring Pemberton.”

Harvie going after the alpine in northern Vancouver Island.

In 1996, in her second year at university in Victoria, she decided to make the leap to technical climbing, but there was a problem. “I couldn’t find a mentor, and I was bad with learning from books so I looked up climbing gyms in the phone book. Crag X Gym told me they had an intro class starting in an hour and I rushed down there.”

Harvie didn’t have a natural climbers’ physique and despite her alpine experience, was afraid of heights. “It took me two or three years to get to the 5.9 level,’ she says, “but I loved the climbing community and was inspired by the big names in climbing, especially Peter Croft, who also came from Nanaimo, and Lynn Hill.” Soon, Harvie was making regular trips to climbing areas on Vancouver Island and Squamish with new climbing friends. On the granite of the Wapiti Valley/Greyback Peak area on north Vancouver Island, she learned multi-pitch climbing. One of her most memorable climbs was Mainline on Grey Back Dome, 13-pitches, including 5.11 friction slab.

Harvie and Ryan Fisher high on Mainline 5.11a at Greyback Mountain on Vancouver Island

She also helped out with the enormous work of putting up new routes on the wall, but was unimpressed by the preponderance of macho route names. “If you keep this up I’ll name the next one fuzzy pink bunny slippers,” she joked to her climbing partners, but instead named her next route Chia Pet.

For 12 years, Harvie has worked in negotiations for the B.C. government. For the last three years, she has held the title of Senior Negotiator for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. There are over 200 First Nations in B.C. engaged in negotiations with B.C., so it’s an enormous, challenging task, but Harvie says, “I love my job, I am passionate about building relationships and perspectives and bringing people together.”

The presentation of a certificate of appreciation by Malahat Nation council during a celebration of a B.C. provincial purchase of land to advance a treaty. From left: Wes Edwards, Jeff Edwards, Malahat Nation Chief Carolyn Harry, Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and Councillors Matthew, Vince and George Harry, Steve Berna (back), with the First Nations Finance Authority, and Harvie. (flickr.com)

Harvie’s journey towards her role as a negotiator was inspired both by her love of the outdoors and her Indigenous heritage. “When I was a teenager,” she said, “I looked at my roots and where I came from, globally, asked questions, reached out and met some special people through the Native Friendship Centre in Victoria.” Harvie is Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, Dutch, Scottish and Acadienne, and refers to her home territory as Miꞌkmaꞌki, which encompasses P.E.I., New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Her visits to Mi’kma’ki and her family there have had deep personal significance to her.

“I walk in two worlds,” Harvie says, “and work to bring Indigenous and other perspectives together. Climbing is not necessarily incompatible [with Indigenous stewardship of the land]. I see myself as a guest on land. The land and the Indigenous nation are the host. Taking that view, we’re guests and want to be invited back. But we can’t always know why we are not allowed to climb somewhere. That sweet boulder could be a burial marker, or that cave could be a rock shelter. We are learning and bringing forward the deep history of the land to build deep understanding.”

Harvie on her first trad lead at Fern Gully in Squamish.

Asked about the call to review some racist or colonialist place names, Harvie says, that names ideally “recognize and hold up things we want to honour as we move forward, and [names] should honour the deep history of the land.” The implication is that we must re-consider the use of names that either posit a history that began with European settlement or honour those who no longer seem significant or worthy to us.

“Part of my job is to engage the public and users of the land, and people who have an interest in the land,” says Harvie. “They should have a chance to ask questions. It goes back to building and understanding perspective, coming to the land as a climber, as a guest. Being able to climb on these lands is a privilege, we’re always striving to bring people together, working with the Squamish Access Society for example, [concerning the recent transfer of lands near Murrin Park to the Squamish nation], so we can move to respectful dialogue, and climbers can engage with the [Squamish] Nation and us, but when there is no info out there, then people don’t know what‘s going on, and that can create anxiety.”

“I know internally we’re having a number of conversations on how can we better engage the public,” she said. “The feedback is definitely we need to be better.”

As for climbing, Harvie says “I’m mostly a gym rat right now, but I look at my fading calluses and think I should be out more often. I have a 12-year-old as well. Mountaineering, trad leading and my motorcycle riding have been curbed a little.”

Harvie’s daughter Brynn at the crag.

Somehow, we suspect this won’t be a long-term situation.