Monthly Archives: June 2013

At the JRP final hearings

This week, I traveled with a Heiltsuk delegation to Terrace, BC for a portion of the Joint Review Panel’s final hearings around the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

Today, I spoke on behalf of community youth during our closing remarks. This is what I shared with the Panel, and I’d like to share it with you.

For generations to come.

Hiyau.

As stated by my chief, my name is Jessie Housty. My traditional name is Ciuagilauxv. I come from the House of Naci and the House of Tsumclaqs. It is important to root my introduction to you in this family history; my name and my houses link me to the stories that are the basis of my identity as a Heiltsuk woman.

I am 26 years old. I grew up on the lands and waters with my family, living the intergenerational teachings that have supported transmission of our Heiltsuk values and laws since time before memory.

I am also an elected member of our Heiltsuk Tribal Council. I sit on this council with my colleagues you see here today, and our council represents three generations of community leadership. There are sixty years between myself and the eldest councilor. Six decades. This is how governance and leadership happen according to our customs. With intergenerational succession.

Even in my short life, I’ve seen huge transformations in my community. What we have fostered in our young people is boldness and hope. We have fostered a strong sense of place-based identity, rooted in our cultural values, that links our youngest generation into a powerful chain that stretches back to time before memory.

Our young people are empowered, socially and spiritually, by access to the lands and waters where they can learn and grow surrounded by their peers, their family, and their community.

From the deep sea to the intertidal zone and into the meadows and forests, our young people walk where our ancestors walked. And the duty they inherit is the same one I have inherited; our duty is to ensure our children and our children’s children can walk where our ancestors walked too.

You cannot assign a dollar value to the potential for transformation. When you take away hope, there is no adequate compensation. Our culture is based on stories. Those stories are written on the lands and waters. If the lands and waters are destroyed, our stories will be destroyed, our way of life will be lost, and our culture will be gone.

Enbridge cannot put a price on my identity as a young Heiltsuk woman. I come from the land. I come from the waters. I cannot be separated from the landscape where my stories come from.

From the first generation of our Heiltsuk people, someone has always held the Heiltsuk name that I hold now. It was passed down, along with our stories, values and laws, from generation to generation.

I hope to pass my name to a daughter someday. I hope she will pass it to my granddaughter.

When my children are born, I want them to be born into a world where hope and transformation are possible. I want them to be born into a world where stories still have power. I want them to grow up able to be Heiltsuk in every sense of the word. To practice the customs and understand the identity that has made our people strong for hundreds of generations.

That cannot happen if we do not sustain the integrity of our territory, the lands and waters, and the stewardship practices that link our people to the landscape. On behalf of the young people in my community, I respectfully disagree with the notion that there is any compensation to be made for the loss of our identity, for the loss of our right to be Heiltsuk.

Gaiasixa.

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Pinus contorta (poem)

My love, let me lean into the wind
of your grief and desire
with the grace of a twisted shore pine.

Let me bend like a tree
against the force of your emptiness,
and you and the sky and the island beneath
can shape me into a story I will tell
with the whole of my body,
in the language of weather and loss.

When the story is done, love,
turn to joy and a wave, and sweep clean
this place where stories are born.

Cormorant (poem)

i.

In the morning:

I will slide your tea into your hands
and your hands into my hands
as the sun awakens clumsily
like a cormorant in the moments
before flight.

ii.

In the tender morning, my dearest,
my dear, in the hushed morning:

your cheek is soft as a cormorant’s breast.

Letters in the mail

Sometimes, when you’re in immersed in an issue or a fight that’s exponentially bigger than you are, it’s hard to stay grounded. When the goalposts keep moving, it’s difficult to measure your progress. You never lose hope, but sometimes, you lose a little bit of heart.

And sometimes, good people demonstrate the generosity of their spirits and give you a little bit of their own heart instead, and all of a sudden things just seem clearer and brighter.

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I sat down this morning with a cup of coffee to start opening up yesterday’s mail. I had a pile eight inches high of envelopes containing documents filed recently within the Joint Review process for Enbridge Northern Gateway. I was reading through motions and evidence put forward by our allies, and responses from Enbridge that made my skin crawl.

And then I found this.

To the sender, who posted this amazing note to me in Bella Bella: You gave me my heart back this morning. You are a reminder of the legions of truly good people who are building a positive community to support the change that needs to happen in our world. And you’ve inspired me.

Thank you for your incredible generosity!

Consilience in Action: Salmon Stewardship in the Koeye River Watershed

At my non-profit job, we’ve been launching into a new initiative based at our field site in the Koeye River Watershed. Recognizing the interconnectedness of the relationships between our people, our territory, and the key species we rely on, we’ve launched a strong Salmon Stewardship Program under our Coastwatch Heiltsuk Monitoring Initiative to ensure we’re managing this important resource with the best tools and information at our disposal.

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An exciting element of this Salmon Stewardship work is our fish weir project. Supervised by Salmon Program Coordinator Will Atlas with assistance from some amazing folks at Hakai Beach Institute, this involves the construction of a cedar- and alder-wood weir across the whole width of the Koeye River above tidewater, which allows our team of Heiltsuk technicians to count every individual sockeye heading upstream. As far as our ongoing theme of “consilience” goes, this represents an incredible overlap between IK (indigenous knowledge) and western science. We’re combining the soundest elements of both in order to achieve better stewardship outcomes in our territory, and it’s exciting to be a part of it!

I’d like to invite you to check out an amazing little video from our friend and colleague Ilja Herb, who joined us during the construction stages of the weir project and is currently on his way back up the coast to film its operation. This video will give you a beautiful, visual introduction to the project, and there’s more to come as the summer progresses!

If you feel compelled to make a donation, your support has a huge impact at this scale. You can donate online, or contact my office for more information.

Global Tribes

I was privileged recently to join a delegation of First Nations leaders from across Canada in a trip through Northern Australia. This article from a Sydney newspaper shares a little of what we were doing.

Meet one of my heroes, Jeffrey Lee:

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Ancient wisdom sends message across the world

They are on their way to meet the stone country people on the remote Western Arnhem Plateau, but first the delegation of Canada’s First Nations stops in Kakadu National Park to visit the man who said no to millions of dollars.

Senior custodian Jeffrey Lee takes them to Koongarra, his bush site that might have become a uranium mine worth as much as $5 billion. If only Lee had said yes.

”Money don’t mean nothing to me,” he says. ”Money come, money go. Once you take my land away, you can’t put it back together again.”

His 11 guests from nine First Nations find nothing strange in this.

”Heartwarming, but not surprising,” says Steve Nitah of the Lutsel K’e Dene Nation. Nitah says native Canadians derive 70 to 90 per cent of their diet from the land but are fighting their own battles with resource developers, from foresters to gas pipeline builders and tar sands miners. They only wish they had the power of veto that Lee enjoys under the Northern Territory land rights act.

Lee’s father and grandfather had wanted the mine but, after a decades-long battle, he has succeeded in his own determination that Koongarra be folded into the world-heritage park that surrounds it.

When Lee divulges his cut from the mine might have been $7.5 million, a 26-year-old member of the Heiltsuk First Nation’s tribal parliament, Jess Housty, shrugs: ”The money is the least interesting thing. If we want to calculate the value of a proposal, the question is, ‘What’s at stake?’ My identity is based on the stories my people have written in the landscape. If you kill the land, you kill our stories. If you kill our stories, you kill the people. It’s as simple as that.”

They are sweltering in temperatures of 30 degrees-plus. Some of them are more comfortable in -30 degrees. But they find they have much in common with indigenous Australians like Lee.

It is why the Pew Charitable Trusts has brought them here. The US-founded global philanthropic giant, which built its perpetual fund on the Pew family’s old oil fortune, is focusing its environmental work on the world’s remaining ”big scale” treasures – the kind of intact ecosystems over vast landscapes that can still be found in Canada and Australia.

So early on Saturday, we board single-engine planes bound for Warddeken, an indigenous rangers’ camp in the stone country of the Mok clan. This tiny outpost is protecting what Pew’s Australian director, ecologist Barry Traill, calls a ”global gem of biodiversity”.

The Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area is half the size of Switzerland, almost 1.4 million hectares that contain species found nowhere else on the planet: the black wallaroo; the Oenpelli python, rock rats, birds, many plants. It boasts thousands of rock art sites.

But wildfires that can burn for months and grow to ”the size of Sydney” would threaten it all if not for the pioneering indigenous fire management at Warddeken, says Traill. This work earns Warddeken and neighbouring indigenous groups a break-even $1.2 million a year for the abatement of 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Warddeken is one of 58 Indigenous Protected Areas that cover more than 51 million hectares of Australia and employ almost 700 indigenous rangers. Launched by the Howard government and expanded under Labor, IPAs are not forms of land tenure. They are agreements between the federal government and traditional owners under which the locals are supported to care for land that is otherwise neglected.

Pew supports several IPAs and believes they can be a model for the Canadians and their own treasures such as the boreal forest, the largest intact forest in the world. The visitors agree. ”I’ve been fighting for something like this for six years,” says Douglas Neasloss of the Kitasoo-Xaixais Nation.

But Warddeken may never have happened if not for ”the old man”, Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, AO. Locals had left the area for bigger settlements around World War II and earlier. Nadjamerrek was among pioneers who led a homeland movement back into Arnhem Land in the 1970s and ’80s and, finally, a return to his own country in the late 1990s. He lived until 2009, just long enough to witness its declaration as an IPA.

Much damage was done in those lost years by wildfire, invasive weeds and feral animals.

Trail says: ”We usually think of conservation and say people are the problem. But one of the biggest problems in outback Australia is the lack of people. In more than 50 per cent of Australia there are fewer people managing the environment today than there have been for the past 50,000 years.”

The IPAs, he says, allow the people who know best to work ”on country”.

The on-site operations manager at Warddeken, Jake Weigl, says their controlled mosaic burning ”absolutely replicates” ancient fire practice but exploits modern tools. In the early dry season, they drop incendiary devices from helicopters. He describes how a helicopter will drop a team of just six to nine rangers – armed with only rake hoes, chainsaws and leaf-blowers – to resist fire fronts as big as 50 kilometres.

”For a fire that size in Victoria they’d bring in hundreds of firefighters, but that’s fire suppression – not management. If they managed it, they wouldn’t need so many resources.”

The chairman of Warddeken Land Management Limited, Dean Yibarbuk, points to the return of emu to the area as evidence of the rangers’ success and the recovery of species.

The Nature Conservancy also supports the operation. Pew has backed IPAs elsewhere, including the Kimberley. It is supporting the Ngadju people to protect the Great Western Woodlands in the south-east of Western Australia.

It worked with graziers and indigenous groups to secure the exclusion of mining leases from the Queensland Channel Country rivers and floodplains that feed Lake Eyre, but now they are battling the Newman government’s declaration that it will allow mining after all.

Pew has some enemies, notably elements among recreational and commercial fishers who believe it has supported research that overstates the threat to global fish stocks. Pew stands by the research. Traill derides a conspiracy theory that Pew is backing marine parks in Australia to exclude oil exploration – to benefit American oil producers.

Pew no longer has any money in oil, he says. When established in 1948, founder J. Howard Pew wanted to ”acquaint the American people with the evils of bureaucracy and the values of a free market”. His heirs have a less conservative focus but the group claims to be non-partisan.

Little of this concerns the daughters of Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, Lois and Hagar. They welcome the First Nations people to their country by inviting them to enter a spring, where they pour water over their heads. In their dreaming, it is the nectar of the sugar bee.

”We are really proud to have that mob coming from Canada,” Hagar says. It was their father’s vision to share their knowledge with the world, she says.

Lois adds: ”I believe we are following his vision.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts assisted Fairfax Media’s travel from Kakadu to Arnhem Land.

Read it here: http://www.theage.com.au/national/ancient-wisdom-sends-message-across-the-world-20130602-2njqs.html#ixzz2VMbFl3w3