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.
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.