Stand with our Paiute relatives

Recently, I was contacted by a Heiltsuk member living in Oregon for a response to the crisis on Paiute lands. It doesn’t take much digging to familiarize yourself with the conflict: An armed white militia is occupying a federal wildlife sanctuary to protest the US federal government’s “tyranny” and issue a call to arms to “patriots” everywhere.

There are many layers to unpack, but one is not yet getting the attention it deserves. Let’s start with this question: Who is the victim of land theft here?

The area being occupied by this white militia is sacred to the Paiute people. Paiute leadership has made clear statements that the militia is desecrating their ancestral lands. This is where Paiute people gather medicines, hold ceremony, and live their identity as people who are inseparable from the lands where their people have lived for thousands of years.

Tell me how this armed standoff, at its heart, an not issue of colonialism. Too many people are responding to the Bundy militia by tagging them with joke names or just ignoring the issue because they think it’s unimportant. If you think this is humorous or irrelevant, I can only assume you’ve never suffered the grief of displacement and land theft.

One criticism I keep seeing is that Bundy and his followers benefit from the very federal government they’re protesting in the form of federal loan guarantees. People can’t get enough of the irony. Frankly, I don’t care about that. Let’s talk about how they’re also benefitting from colonialism, white supremacy, and the deep pain of Indigenous peoples whose lands were stolen from them from the US federal government.

To all my Indigenous brothers and sisters, and everyone who purports to stand with us:

The absolute least you could do right now is lift up the voices of Paiute people and recognize that ignoring or undermining the seriousness of this issue is totally antithetical behaviour in anyone who claims to care about Indigenous sovereignty or to practice allyship to Indigenous people and causes.

Bundy, the militia’s leader, is preaching to the Paiute about oppression and co-opting their concerns to spin media for his standoff. How can people stand by while a white militia not only fails to acknowledge how they benefit from a society that oppresses Indigenous people – but also desecrates Indigenous land and appropriates the messages of Paiute leadership to bolster their own support?

I can tell you right now, if someone did this in Heiltsuk homelands, I’d be the first one lining up to deliver them a big, fat reality check.

This issue is simple. In the words of 11 year old Ashlin Begay, quoted in The Guardian yesterday, “If people are giving away land here, they should give it to us,” she said. “It’s ours. It’s always been ours.

Stop letting Bundy and everyone like him get away with their oppressive tactics. Lift up the voices of the Paiute people who are tied to this land in every aspect of their being.

This Heiltsuk is standing with our Paiute relatives. I hope you are too.

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Here are just a few things you should be elevating in your newsfeed right now instead of cracking jokes or just scrolling by:

Oregon “Militia” Says Feds Stole Their Land – Turns Out It Was Stolen from Paiute Tribe

How the Oregon militia standoff became a battle with a Native American tribe

Oregon’s Paiute Tribe Just Told Bundy Militia to Stop “Desecrating” Sacred Land and Go Home (VIDEO)

Oregon Native Americans Say Armed Militia Is “Desecrating” Land

Oregon standoff: Militia group has ‘no right to this land,’ native tribe says

 

Ossuaries (poem)

i.

My love,
I want to braid your bones like rivers,
I want to weave them close
like the branches of a sapling
that is glutted with the green blood
of spring.

ii.

My love,
give me your bones.

This is the body that your mother unearthed
with her sweet, brown hands.
This is the flesh that your father pulled up
like a stubborn root.

It will return someday, this body,
to the ground and to the grasses;
it will burrow into the rich earth
and your bones will seem a fitting gift
to one who knew the story of the hands of your father,
of your mother’s knuckles like knots
in hard wood.

iii.

My love,
I love your bones with the certainty of winter
which makes stories and birdsong visible,
hanging suspended as fog in the cold air.

I love your bones, your definite bones,
with the same implacable love reserved for the invisible made definite:
stories, and birdsong.

iv.

My love,
your sweetness lies between the flesh and the bone;
your sweetness is written in the marrow.

v.

My love,
let me gather up your crooked bones
a build a story-shelter,
a house of sweetness;
let me gather up your crooked bones
and build the story of your sweetness
from the sudden tangible language
of winter birdsong.

Love, and Bill C-51

Friends,
Recently, I received an email from the Secretary of the House of Commons Committee on National Security and Public Safety. It included an invitation to provide testimony outlining my concerns regarding Bill C-51.

Although I had a thousand changes of heart between initially accepting that invitation and actually delivering my testimony this afternoon, I am grateful to have had such an opportunity. It is so rare for the people on the front lines to have a voice in these processes.

Much of my testimony related to transparency and accountability. For that reason, I’d like to share my speaking notes with you. If you track down the transcript from the committee meeting which includes the cross-examination, you’ll find that somehow, in hearings about terrorism and national security, I found myself talking about love.

Thank you to every single one of you who walks beside me in the work we do on the ground. I believe it is good work done with a good heart. Remembering the strength of the community that surrounds me gave me bravery I didn’t feel in my bones until I thought of all of you.

xo,
Jess

Jessie Housty, Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
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Honouring

Yesterday, I had my second ultrasound as an expectant mother. At a little over 5 months, I’m starting to feel my baby moving. During the ultrasound, I could see the chain of its vertebrae like beads on a necklace, and watch its arms and legs moving as it twisted and rolled in my womb.

I don’t know the gender of this baby. I have no way of knowing what kind of little person it will be. But I know a lot about the world it’ll be born into in just a few months’ time. Both its parents have chosen, in their own ways, to spend their lives trying to effect social change and make the world a little more just. But peace is never promised, is it?

As an Indigenous woman, I am – and have always been – part of that wave of brown women who have safe spaces and vulnerability in a violent society at the forefront of their minds. Every time I read about another Indigenous woman who is murdered or missing, there’s a pang of animal fear, and the question What if it had been me? What if someday, it’s my daughter?

I live a life of incredible privilege. I have a lot of security in my world. Part of my work is helping others to create security – to support their wellness, their safety, and their choices in any way that they ask. I want every Indigenous woman to feel supported by community, to feel pride of heritage, and to have the security of personal wellbeing.

But I know being safe isn’t as simple as being strong. And I cannot forget all the women who are written off as an X or a question mark in the media. The names and stories we hear so briefly, with attached statistics and sometimes with litanies of violent actions upon Indigenous women’s bodies. The women who have been killed. The women who have disappeared.

There are many amazing resources available, including growing databases, that help to centralize stories and information about these missing and murdered women and girls. I’m not trying to replace those resources, but as I think of all the stories in this world I want my unborn baby to know, there is also an even more basic desire that my child simply know how sacred stories are. So I wanted to make a space to collect them. A place to remember those women and girls, where I can see their faces, speak their names like words in a ritual, and let them know I remember them – and I hold their stories sacred.

You can find that space here.

Three times a week – every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – a post will appear. They will be simple. A photograph, if I can find one. A name. A link to an article, a missing persons report, a plea from the community. For the missing, a token of my hope that they will be found. For the murdered, a token of remembrance. Their names and their stories have power, and always will; they are Indigenous women whose bodies were, and are, as sacred as the homelands they came from.

It’s not enough. Nothing is enough until it stops. Until the violence ends, until there is justice. But it is one small thing I can do.

Please visit, share your prayers in the comments, link to other stories about those women, and say their names out loud. Whether they’ve gone on ahead to walk with our ancestors or they’re out there in this world waiting to be found, I hope their spirits will come to us when they’re named and that they know they are loved and remembered.

Photo tour of the new Koeye Sanctuary

Hello friends,
At this time of year, we at Qqs are wrapping up our busy season and reflecting on all the work we’ve undertaken with our partners and our community. This year, one of our highlights was hosting a blessing ceremony for the new facility in Koeye, and having an opportunity to show our friends and supporters what we’re working toward.

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For those of you who weren’t able to join us in person last August, we’ve prepared an informal photo presentation that you can find by following this link. It includes a walk-through of the property with stories and notes about our 2014 season, and what we plan to accomplish in 2015.

On behalf of everyone at Qqs (Eyes) Projects Society, please accept my profound gratitude for sticking by us during this time of growth and transitions. We’re heading toward something beautiful!

Jess

Vows

Two weeks ago, I married my love.

I got married in my grandmother’s wedding dress, 71 years after she exchanged vows with my grandfather. I wore her wedding pearls, and a delicate gold bracelet that belonged to my great-grandmother. The head table was covered with a lovely white tablecloth that both women used on their wedding days. I’m blessed to have love in my life that goes back generations before I was even born.

In lieu of wedding gifts, we invited our loved ones to make a donation to RAVEN Trust to support the Nations who are fighting Enbridge Northern Gateway in the courts. Through the generosity of family, friends, and even strangers, we raised $5,705. When RAVEN announced a matching donor for all monetary gifts, the total impact of our fundraiser rose to $11,410. We are so grateful for the support shown to a cause close to our hearts.

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We chose to write our own vows, which we recited in unison before exchanging a pair of wedding rings engraved with a beautiful albatross design.

Here they are –

I pledge today
in the presence of our loved ones
to be honest, patient, and kind.
I pledge to stand by your actions
because I know you are a person of integrity.
I pledge to honour your causes
because I know you are a person of principle.
I pledge to support your beliefs
because I know you are a person of conviction.
In the course of our lives
I will trust and respect you,
I will uplift you,
and I will let your love make me brave.
I promise these things
in tenderness and joy,
in wellness and grief,
in beauty and in resistance
for as long as we work side by side.
I make this pledge
with consent and a good heart
because I know you are a person of your word.

With love.

Why I signed the Let BC Vote pledge

Last week I signed the Let BC Vote pledge. You could say I’m late to the party. More than 200,000 British Columbians signed before me. I’ve been aware of the Dogwood Initiative-led campaign since it launched, and I’ve watched the numbers grow. But I wanted to reason it through before deciding with conviction that it is part of my path forward.

For the last few years I’ve worked in my community and beyond to help build the momentum we need to stop Enbridge Northern Gateway. I’m not trained as a leader or organizer. I came to this work before I felt ready, and I learned on my feet. I’ve made my share of gut decisions in the heat of battle, and learned to be grateful when I have the luxury of examining every angle of a campaign before I commit to it.

Now that the federal government has approved this project, we could be in for a long fight. I believe pipeline opponents have been laying the groundwork for sustained action since day one, but what carries us through will be smart strategies, high levels of organization, and commitment. I may have taken my time, but Let BC Vote has my commitment. Because this is more than a drive to build a list and collect signatures. It’s an opportunity to build capacity, demand accountability, and strengthen alliances – and all of those actions are critical at this stage of the fight.

Two systems of law and governance
Smart organizers invest in a diversity of tactics, and lead with the strongest in any situation. The tactics available to us in this fight are complex, because the communities who are organizing are interacting with two very different systems of law and governance.

Let me explain: I am Indigenous, and I am Heiltsuk. The Heiltsuk have a set of laws and customs that goes back to our First Generation, and that system is the one that primarily guides my actions. Heiltsuk people also maintain an original system of government that organizes how we function as a society. I’m not talking about the federally-imposed system of Indian Act governments; I’m talking about our hereditary chiefs who are groomed from birth to be rights-holders who uphold the ways of our people.

More broadly, Canada has a set of federal and provincial laws and governance that is primary to my Settler allies. I respond to it as well, but for me, it comes second.

Those two systems of law and governance make three sets of tactics available to us. Think of them as two circles. I want to talk about those circles, and the space where they overlap.

In one circle, you have the Indigenous system. This system is what empowers our hereditary chiefs to say no – no, on the basis that this project is inconsistent with our laws and customs. No, on the strength of their authority as chiefs. In the other circle, you have the Settler system. This system includes federal and provincial legislation that is meant to impartially vet and regulate projects like Northern Gateway.

Let’s be frank. My laws and customs as an Indigenous person are my highest truth, but I live in a country that sidesteps the power of that truth. And Canadians are living under a regime – at least federally – that systematically dismantles inconvenient legislation and regulations so projects like Northern Gateway can barrel ahead.

So what is possible where the Indigenous and Settler circles overlap? One clear example is in the courts. As the recent Tsilhqot’in decision reinforced, Indigenous rights and title hold real, tangible power within the Canadian legal system.

This is the battle plan that pipeline opponents have had in their back pocket since day one: Indigenous people fighting and stopping Northern Gateway in Canadian court, on the basis that this project would intrude onto territories to which we hold title, and infringe on our rights. As these cases proceed there is a supportive role for Settler allies to play in areas like fundraising and communications, but with this tactic the burden of leadership rests with Indigenous people.

Where is the burden of leadership for Settler people? A majority of Indigenous groups in British Columbia have rejected Enbridge Northern Gateway under their own systems of law, while a majority of British Columbians reject this plan for their home province too. Based on those two facts, what power can non-Indigenous people seize? I believe the answer lies in the citizens’ initiative.

By organizing in ridings across the province, by stepping up as leaders within their own communities, and by drafting and proposing legislation that fits their values, citizens have a powerful opportunity – available only in British Columbia – to hold their provincial government to account. For as Ottawa acknowledged the day it approved the pipeline, B.C. still has the power to stop it. Without 60 permits from Premier Clark, Enbridge may not proceed.

I don’t want my Settler brothers and sisters to point to the Indigenous legal battle and say “We believe you’re going to win.” I want to hear them say they’re ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder, with each of us seizing the power that best enables us to win together. If diverse tactics are available, let’s be wise enough to consider all of them. Preparing for a citizens’ initiative does not undermine title or rights. Rather, it builds our collective political power.

Final thoughts
For me, the core of this issue is simple: leaders must be accountable to their people, regardless of the scale of leadership. If leaders forget who they represent, then the people need to organize. I know this truth from my own leadership in a community that is not afraid to correct my course if there is a better way for me to carry their interests forward.

Scale that spirit up to the provincial level. Elections are not our only opportunity to remind leaders whose interests they’re meant to represent in office. Trooping to the ballot box every four years is not enough to hold Christy Clark accountable. Let’s use every means available to hold her to the truth that her mandate comes from the people of B.C., and the people of B.C. expect her to join us in stopping Enbridge.

When it comes to being allies, let’s remember we are in this fight together. It is no longer enough to show solidarity. I am humbly asking my Settler allies to be solidary. It’s the difference between a finite action and a way of being. We need to work strategically in the space where our values and power overlap. I am committed to upholding the truth of my laws and stories, to helping my chiefs defend our rights and title in the courts. And I am committed to supporting my Settler brothers and sisters who choose to organize around an action that puts power back in their hands too.

By signing the Let BC Vote pledge, I am gesturing my willingness to be solidary with my Settler brothers and sisters. It’s time for all of us to rise up, build our organizing capacity, and exercise it in actions that advance us toward our goal of stopping this pipeline. I’m with you until we win.

I came into my role as a leader and community organizer because of Enbridge Northern Gateway. My elders taught me that you don’t get to choose the moment when you’re called to leadership; the only thing that’s up to you is courage and conviction. That teaching has guided me through many moments of uncertainty, and it’s the message I’ve most often shared with Indigenous and Settler people alike: respond to what this moment is asking of you. This fight is too big for us to do otherwise.