Teale Phelps Bondaroff describes himself as an “activist academic.” His impressive breadth of work is hard to whittle down to one category. He’s a Councillor for the District of Saanich. He’s the Director of Research for the marine conservation organization OceansAsia. Through that work, he has become the world’s leading expert on sea cucumber wildlife crime. An advocate for reproductive justice and ending gender-based violence, he is the founder of the AccessBC, a campaign that advocated for —and succeeded—in getting free prescription contraception for people across British Columbia.
And to top it off, he’s a passionate advocate for little free libraries. Phelps Bondaroff sees these kinds of libraries as much more than a place to drop off or pick up book, but a “coral reef for communities”. They are places where people can meet, connect and learn from each other.
You can find him bicycling around the Victoria, BC region, distributing books and important information to the little free libraries. One of the items he regularly tucks away in the homemade boxes? The moose hide pin.
“The moose hide pin just seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “The campaign was born here in Victoria. The pins are the heart of the campaign, and these little libraries are a great way to connect people to the campaign who wouldn’t be exposed to it otherwise.”
With three older sisters, he connects deeply to the Moose Hide Campaign’s mission of ending gender-based violence.
“There’s a deep sense of injustice in the fact that some people are more exposed to violence just because of who they are,” he said. “It’s just an abhorrent thing.”
An early advocate
Phelps Bondaroff grew up with what he describes as “hippie-artist” parents. As a family, they travelled the world to countries like Spain and Mexico. His parents painted pictures while he and his sisters soaked in the world around them.
He’s been a volunteer since he was a child, running the children’s art booth at festivals and dressing up as the giant mascot at the school his mother worked for. A high school debater and active in University of Calgary’s student politics, Phelps Bondaroff moved on to run for federal parliament in Alberta two times, as well as for the Alberta legislature. He has been an activist on progressive issues ever since.
Phelps Bondaroff knows that world’s most urgent problems—like climate change and gender equity— can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to make tangible change.
“The way I look at it, there’s lots of different issues that we can be working on in the world, and I try to break them down into small, bite-size chunks and deal with those.”
More than just little free libraries
For past 6 years, Phelps Bondaroff has led the Pocket Places Project through the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network. The project promotes, stocks, maps and builds little free libraries across the Victoria region.
It’s not just books these boxes offer. There are little free libraries dedicated to everything from yarn to food to seeds for planting gardens. When the project started, there were 111 little free libraries across the region. There are now almost 700.
“One of the things we learned early on in the project is that little free libraries are a fantastic way to share books, to build community and connect people, but they’re also a way to share really important information,” he said.
Phelps Bondaroff spends much of his time biking around the libraries with his trailer, dropping off books and community-building items, like moose hide pins, sidewalk chalk for children and copies of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.
Pins to end violence
So far, Phelps Bondaroff has distributed around 2,800 moose hide pins to little free libraries across the region. Over the course of the last eight months, that’s three to four cards to each library. The goal is to spread awareness about the campaign and start conversations around ending gender-based violence.
The unacceptable truth is, in Canada, one in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. For Indigenous women, the statistics are devastating. Spousal violence of Indigenous women is three times higher than non-Indigenous women, and Indigenous women are killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women.
The Moose Hide Campaign is about taking action to change these statistics, whether it’s wearing and sharing the pin, speaking out against gender-based violence, or participating in Moose Hide Campaign Day on May 11, an annual day of ceremony that includes speakers, workshops and a walk to end violence.
The power of conversation
If the heart of the Moose Hide Campaign is the pin, the soul is the pin’s call to action: sparking conversation around ending violence against women and children.
Phelps Bondaroff uses the hockey locker room as an example of where conversation can help spread awareness. If there are two players having a conversation on a topic like gender-based violence, it’s not only the two people engaged in talking that are affected. There’s the entire team around them who may be listening and learning.
“One of the things we underestimate is the power of casual conversations,” he said. “It’s amazing how influential a passing conversation with someone can be, especially on the people around them.”
Phelps Bondaroff believes that just one conversation can lead to people stepping up and taking an active role in changing society around them.
Do what you enjoy
Being an ally— especially to people who are directly affected by the issue and don’t have the resources to fight themselves—is one of the most important things we can do in our lifetime. Phelps Bondaroff knows that to create real change, we need to use our energy in ways that we enjoy.
“Some of the issues we’re trying to deal with, like the patriarchy or gender-based violence or climate change, they’re really big scary issues,” he said. He explained that the process of learning about an issue usually starts with ignorance, then moves to depression and grief. The problem with that? Sadness isn’t a mobilize feeling. Becoming, and staying, motivated is the key to long-term success.
“One of the things with activism is, you want to make the world a better place, but you also want to be doing something you enjoy and that you’re good at. If you’re an artist, do art that makes the world a better place. If you’re a musician, write the songs that we’re going to be chanting at the next rally.”
Phelps Bondaroff loves little free libraries and placemaking— creating places where people want to live, work, play and learn in. Distributing moose hide pins across the region is a way he stays energized while spreading awareness about a campaign he passionately believes in.
Order your pins today!
Join Teale Phelps Bondaroff in the movement! Order your pins today and drop a few off at your nearest little free library. The pins are a free gift of medicine from the Moose Hide Campaign. For those individuals and organizations interested in supporting the production and distribution of pins, you can make on the Moose Hide Campaign web site:
With the annual Moose Hide Campaign Day taking place May 11, 2023 now is the perfect time to order your pins to wear and share.