Simon Jackson and the power of one

A passionate Simon Jackson inspires children with his efforts to save the Spirit Bear. Photos by Sara Piazza
A passionate Simon Jackson inspires children with his efforts to save the Spirit Bear. Photos by Sara Piazza

By Sara Piazza - July 27, 2006

Simon Jackson saw his first wild bear, a grizzly with two young cubs, on a family trip to Yellowstone National Park when he was seven years old, at which time, he says, "A passion was born." Shortly after the trip to Yellowstone, young Simon responded to a newscaster's plea to save the Kodiak bear in Alaska by setting up a lemonade stand and donating the $60 he had raised to the cause and writing letters to the prime minister of Canada and the president of the United States.

A couple of months later, when Simon learned that the Kodiak bear had been saved, his seven-year-old mind was convinced that he had single-handedly saved the animal. Though he would eventually realize that that was not the case, the lesson he learned was indelible: that "one person no matter their age, no matter where they live can make a difference for all life. It was a gift of hope - that I could do the same thing for other animals, for other issues. And it was a powerful tool that would allow me to overcome the many roadblocks that I would soon face in my quest to save another bear, in a campaign that has come to define the majority of my young life."

Trevor Strang listens intently to Simon Jackson who shared his message of "the power of one." Photo by Sara Piazza
Trevor Strang listens intently to Simon Jackson who shared his message of "the power of one."

As a self-described ordinary 13-year-old "with no remarkable skills or intellect," Simon Jackson single-handedly battled a giant Canadian lumber company and saved the habitat that is key to the survival of the rare white bear, the Kermode bear, called Spirit Bear by the indigenous people of Canada.

Simon Jackson is the founder and director of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, and he and his battle to save the Spirit Bear are the subjects of the movie, "Spirit Bear: the Simon Jackson Story," which was presented at the Chilmark Community Center on July 12 by the Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival as part of its children's series. Mr. Jackson himself was present at the screening, and while on-Island, made an appearance at the FARM Institute's summer camp at Katama Farm in Edgartown where he shared his message of "the power of one" with an attentive group of young people.

The summer camp at the FARM Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission, according to Camp and Events director Rob Goldfarb, is to "engage children and adults in working agriculture through a working farm. Parents are realizing that their kids are so out of tune, out of the food web, so we bring the kids to the farm to learn - hands-on - about sustainability, farming practices, stewardship, the culture of farming; about nutrition and about where food comes from. There's a sense of discovery; it's a way of empowering and having fun at the same time. We have about 50 kids a week, from all over - from Switzerland, from Japan, Taiwan, California, as well as Island kids - and they leave here so energetic about what they learned here, about their accomplishments."

Summer campers Kim and Lindsay Gray are all ears and eyes at the FARM Institute in Edgartown. Photo by Sara Piazza
Summer campers Kim (left) and Lindsay Gray are all ears and eyes at the FARM Institute in Edgartown.

"We want to be a community resource, and we're trying to connect to other resources," Mr. Goldfarb continued. "We have a relationship with Anna Molitor at the Independent Film Festival in Chilmark, and she thought it would be great to connect Simon to people on the Island who are working with conservation. Some of the kids went to Chilmark to see the film - a film about making choices and saving the world. The kids reacted very positively to his visit and to his message; their curiosities were piqued."

The FARM Institute Summer Camp provides scholarships for Island families and there are spaces still available for this season. The camp is funded by donations, community support, and fund-raising events such as its recent Meals in the Meadow. On August 1, the Farm Institute will be opening a corn maze - two labyrinths cut into the corn field; an easy, 10- to 20-minute course for children, and a more difficult, half-hour maze for adults. The cost will be $4, and it will be open from 8 am to 5 pm every day.

For more information on Simon Jackson, visit www.spiritbearyouth.org; for more information on the Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival and to see the screening schedule, visit www.mviff.org or call 508-693-0396; to learn more about the Farm Institute, visit www.farminstitute.org or call 508-627-7007.