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Nature of wolves knits cultures in Nanaimo

Wolf educator and First Nations publisher share knowledge of wolves from cultural perspectives
Mahikan, a wolf-dog cross, bred in Nevada, has given birth to two pups she is raising on the grounds of the SWELL Wolf Education Centre south of Nanaimo that is operated by the non-profit Tundra Speaks Society. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

People feeling the call of the wild can meet with a wolf to learn more about humankind’s relationship with the natural environment.

Gary Allan, who has worked to educate the public about wolves for 12 years through the Tundra Speaks Society, and his wolf-dog, Tundra, have formed a partnership with Randy Fred of the Tseshaht First Nation. Together they’re bringing people the experience of interacting with a wolf while learning about the animal’s role in the environment and how deeply wolves are woven into First Nation culture.

Allan, who owns and operates the SWELL Wolf Education Centre, said his interest in wolves started when he was young and was influenced, in part, from reading Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. Years later he spotted a newspaper ad for wolf-cross puppies in Victoria and purchased a male.

“We got the first one and he was supposed to be much higher [wolf] content than he was, but I’ve always said I was really happy that they lied to me because he was just such an incredible animal,” Allan said.

After some further research, he found Tundra – an estimated 90 per cent wolf-dog cross – which he purchased from a breeder in Alberta. At the time, he had no intent to educate the public about wolves.

“We got her and people could see, even as a two- or three-month-old pup that they’re different,” he said.

Allan and Sally, his wife, lived on Malcolm Island at the time, where a local Beaver troop wanted to see the wolf, as did a local school. Those visits were the start of Allan’s wolf education work. To date, Tundra has met with about 35,000 students and met with children and adults through schools, community libraries and other organizations.

The Allans added two more wolf-dogs, Nahanni, a male, and Mahikan, a female, from a breeder in Nevada. Nahanni has died, but he sired two pups, Stqe:ye and Denali, with Mahikan, which were born in early May and are being raised on Allan’s property in South Wellington.

The new Tundra Speaks education program by Allan and Fred provides three types of presentations tailored to schools, community groups or small groups of up to about six people. In each presentation, Allan shares his knowledge on the wolf’s role in maintaining natural ecological balance. Fred, who has worked in communications and publishing most of his life, shares First Nation culture as it relates to the wolf.

“I do a welcome … a couple of Tseshaht songs and then just some stories about my growing up and make it clear that on Vancouver Island there are three nations, the Nuu-chah-nulth, the Salish and the Kwakiutl, and then talk about some similarities and differences and then relate it back to the wolf all the time and the similarities between the wolves and the family arrangements with First Nations.”

Fred said there are parallels between the wolf and First Nations that include losing land and resources and the ability to survive and there are also similarities between wolf and First Nation family structure.

“What amazes me with the presentations we’ve been giving is how bright some of the kids are with their questions and it’s been really cool having First Nations kids in the groups too, to bring a whole different perspective from wherever they’re from,” Fred said.

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Denali is one of two wolf-dog cubs that were born in May. The cubs are owned by Gary Allan and Sally, his wife, who are directors of the non-profit Tundra Speaks Society formed to educate the public about wolves. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Tundra, a 12-year-old wolf-dog cross from Alberta, gets a pat from her owner Sally Allan, one of the directors of the non-profit Tundra Speaks Society, which supports wolf education through public engagement. Tundra has met an estimated 35,000 children in schools as part of efforts to educate the public about the importance of wolves in the natural environment. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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