Faces of the OLW Network: Lina Azeez, Watershed Watch Salmon Society
Behind each member of the OLW Network, their projects, and their efforts to help turn the curve on our collective OLW impact measures, are people. The OLW Network relies on our connections and collaborations with each other, so we want to highlight the most important aspect of the Network: you, its members.
Each month, we’re highlighting someone in the OLW Network through a Q&A interview format, taking a peek into their work lives and all the quirks that come along for the ride as we adjust to working from home. The interviews are conducted by Andrew Stegemann, Director of the OLW Network, and are edited for length and clarity.
This month’s face of the OLW Network: Lina Azeez
Lina is the Connected Waters Campaign Manager with Watershed Watch Salmon Society. She lives on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in Vancouver, BC, and due to this pesky COVID thing, now finds herself sharing her work world with her partner, Shehzad, and her cat. More on the cat in our exchange...
Andrew: Do you have any animals in the house?
Lina: Yeeeeaaaaaahhh (extended, almost celebratory ‘yeaaah’)…. We’ve got a cat, her name is Purrrsimon Pringlesworth...
A: (laughs) That’s amazing. Pursimon Pringlesworth!?
L: Yeah, P-U-R-R-R-S-I-M-O-N
A: Is that three R’s!?
L: Yeah, it’s very funny at the vet.
A: Please tell me it’s a giant, furry, humongous … (Lina is shaking her head)
L: (Laughing) No, she’s a kitten. She’s about six months now, a little tuxedo cat. We call her Purrrsy for short. She loves to sleep on my lap when I’m working which is really nice. She spends a good amount of her morning overseeing the activities of the day out the balcony - we put her on a leash - she watches the birds and the bees, having a great time.
A: (Laughs). I love it. Okay, onto the questions… What is something positive happening in your work world during these unique times?
L: It’s really nice to see people come together and be really forgiving of each other and understanding of why some things may be delayed or not up to a certain quality we may otherwise expect. I’ve enjoyed seeing people rally to keep things going so that our projects are still relevant. We were having this conversation internally, asking, is it the time to talk about salmon when there’s a pandemic going on? We realized it is the right time, because people want to be outdoors in nature, and we want to be sure we have a nature to be out in. So, that work never stops - we need to keep making sure our watersheds continue to be protected and our salmon habitat is healthy. We not only want to be outdoors, we also want to ensure our food security, and our nature security.
A: I have heard many talk about these notions of ‘security’: food security, nature security, water security and how important they are showing themselves to be.
L: Yes, but not in a way where we have to highly manage it and take it out of its natural context, which is what we tend to do. Like, “oh no, we can’t grow food naturally so let's put it into a lab or create fish farms” and that’s the answer to our crisis. It’s about managing it naturally, so it’s not just about human needs and consumption, but also for the larger ecological functioning. For example, the work I focus on is around flood control. We need to protect communities against floods so we put up dykes and walls and channelize rivers and we try so hard to have complete control but to the detriment of everything else. Consider waterways in the Lower Mainland [area around Vancouver] that are impacted by flood structures like pump stations, which move water from the land side to the Fraser River - those pump stations will also pull fish and amphibians and they get ground up in the pumps and spit out. We’re calling for pump stations that are fish friendly so we’re improving the ability for fish to live while also providing flood infrastructure.
A: What is a quirk of your home/work life right now?
L: I’m hearing a lot more live music from people’s homes. People playing the ukulele, and just across the way, somebody is really good on the piano. I get two hours of that. And my partner - bless his soul - is taking time during the day to play his harmonica (laughs). From Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) to Happy Birthday… and I provide some vocals.
Also, the 7pm appreciation [people making noise in support of the front line workers] is wonderful. Sometimes after work we go biking, and hearing people cheer is very emotional. You can hear the echoes downtown with everyone cheering and playing trumpets, airhorns, fireworks and the boats honking as well. It feels like we’re all together. It’s really nice.
A: Last question, on the larger theme of what comes next, given this crisis, what’s your hope?
L: Oh wow, so many hopes. I have many thoughts in their infancy. I want to see us look at people differently, respecting the front line workers. Like the whole idea about universal basic income for example, I’ve always loved it and want to see it realized. For example, just yesterday I read the Arundathi Roy article, “The Pandemic is a Portal”. She’s an amazing writer, thinker and environmental activist from India and her article offered hope that the pandemic would be the door through which the world would emerge more just, supportive and changed for the better. In the economic context, I’ve been thinking about what changing the way we think about ‘business as usual’ would look like. I know it must happen. It’s been said many times already but I truly believe we cannot go back to the way things were. It’s been great to see the way companies are pivoting to address this issue - they were making one specialized thing, and now many are making PPE equipment for example. It’s not a new ask from the climate change and environmental movement to say we need to change the way we do business, but apathy, poor leadership and greed say it’s impossible. But, seeing that it is possible and that we can do it gives me hope. Also, all the before and after photos [like the state of rivers or cities and pollution]. People are remembering what it used to be like. They are remembering, but I don’t know if that’s enough, because people still need to feed the kids and house themselves, and oftentimes many governments aren’t able to provide that for their people.
From the perspective of my work, we are seeing this opportunity to talk about changing basic things we take for granted. So we can make bold asks that create systemic change like spending stimulus money on habitat restoration, governance and policy, and fish friendly flood infrastructure.
Previously featured on "Faces of the OLW Network"