In the spirit of kindness

More and more often, we are reading in the news about the federal government and various intelligence and law enforcement agencies allegedly “spying” on aboriginals and pipeline opponents.

I am both of those things. I have no idea whether strangers are picking up shards of information from my emails and text messages. I have no idea what kind of beautiful stained-glass mosaics their imaginations might create. But in the spirit of wild and optimistic honesty, I would like to make a declaration to them, just in case:

I have nothing to hide from you.

Sometimes I can be arrogant. I’m very bad at playing guitar, but you know, I think I can sing pretty nicely. I like an embarrassing amount of honey in my tea. When I hike in the forest, I like to run. I write poems on napkins and receipts and scraps of paper and most of the time, I lose them; maybe you’ve found some. I don’t make my bed. Even though I think they’re silly, sometimes when it’s laundry day I resort to wearing animal print underpants.

I love my family so much it feels like my heart could burst out of my chest. Yeah, I know that emotions don’t really come from the little organ hidden behind my ribs, but I’ll admit it: I simplify the things that are too complex for me to comprehend, and I am content with those little truths I create. Besides, my family is pretty amazing. I really think my cousins build better forts than anyone else in the world, and they’re all my best friends.

It’s not just my family, though. I love my people. I really believe this: there are salmon swimming in my veins. Isn’t that incredible? My vertebrae are just stones from an old fishtrap arranged into a spine. My whole body belongs to the land I come from. I didn’t inherit the legacy of my ancestors; I’m part of a continuum. My whole sense of time is probably different from yours. I have 10,000 beautiful years of history on my shoulders and I live my life hoping that future generations will nod quietly to themselves someday and think of me as just another face in the vast village of ancestors that lives in their imagination. I’m Heiltsuk; it’s imprinted in every cell in my body.

Okay, that probably sounded a little smug. I told you I can be arrogant. Really, though, I wish everyone could experience how beautiful it is to know where you come from and to know where your bones will rest too. With a good heart, I wish you the peace that comes from having deep roots.

What else should I tell you? I was going to say “that you should never be afraid of me,” but I’m not sure that would be honest of me, and this is an exercise in honesty after all.

A journalist asked me a question once. Well, journalists ask me questions all the time – I’m not sure why – but there was one question I particularly liked. Not because it was original, but because of how he asked it.

This journalist, he was sitting on my deck last summer in Bella Bella, and a couple of barn swallows were swooping over us while he interviewed me. We were trying to have a very grave conversation, but it was a sunny day, and my heart was feeling light. After awhile, his formal interview tone just sort of dissipated, and then he asked me in a small voice: “Do you think this pipeline will get built?”

I couldn’t help it. It was instinct. I started giving my usual, predictable response. “I’ll be dead before this pipeline gets built,” I snapped. Then I paused and thought about his tone. And so he looked relieved when my voice got softer too, and then I said a thing I really do believe with all my heart: “But I hope it’s the case that I die an old, old woman, whose grandchildren never got tired of hearing how granny watched the people rise up to defeat the pipeline.”

I don’t want to die to stop this from happening. More importantly, I don’t want to ask other people to risk their own wellbeing to fight beside me if it comes to that. It’s why I work so hard to find peaceful resolutions. But people can be hard and soft at the same time, you know. I want justice for the land and its people without any violence. But that is secondary to a simpler statement: I want justice for the land and its people. I hope we find justice and peace; I know we will find justice.

I’m arrogant sometimes, but often it’s to cover up being nervous. When the journalist’s voice went quiet that afternoon, I should have known that for a moment, he was just a nervous person asking me a personal question. And you know what? I believe we should reciprocate the trust that comes with someone making themselves vulnerable in front of us.

That probably sounded like I expect you to trust me with your vulnerability too, stranger, if you do indeed exist. But don’t feel pressed. Making space for something isn’t the same as asking for it. Just know that if you want to tell me your secrets, I will respect them.

If you remember just one thing from what I’ve shared, I hope it’s not that I own animal print underpants or that sometimes I switch to autopilot when I’m being interviewed by journalists. I hope you remember that I have nothing to hide from you.

Maybe you’re worried that I’m organizing a riot when all I’m really doing is building community. Maybe you think I’m opposing development when really what I’m doing is protecting something sacred. Maybe you have questions about place-based indigenous identity. Or maybe you don’t ever ask yourself “Why?” Me, though, I sleep well at night because I do my work with a good heart; I’ll answer any questions you ask of me in the same spirit. If you’re out there, and if you’re “spying,” come out of the shadows. Be the audience to a story. Or be a participant in dialogue. Let’s understand one another instead of one side watching the other. Don’t be passive; be bold, and engage!

You don’t need to worry. My people have a long tradition of feasting with their enemies.

I’ve made peace with the possibility of watchers. I hope someday when this is all over, you will come out and publicly affirm all that to which you bore witness when reading my emails: that my boyfriend is, as I often rave to my friends, incredibly handsome; that the seventeenth round of edits to that draft of my thesis chapter is good enough already; and that as I write to my sister in Vancouver quite frequently, I’d give just about anything to share a cup of tea with her. I really do miss her. But you know that.

Does that sound like a deal? If so, give me a sign. I’m sure you are able to manipulate my devices and accounts to do so.

In the spirit of kindness,
Jess

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15 responses to “In the spirit of kindness

  1. wow Jessie

  2. Thank you Jess, not only for walking with your own people, but for leading others of us, by your fine example.

  3. you spoke from your heart, my heart heard and was made lighter

  4. We are honoured to have honest people to learn from. Thank you Jess.

  5. My hands goes up to air to say thank you for speaking out loud speaking how you feel i am so thankful beautiful words very powerful words. You spoke from heart i sing my prater song when finsh my prayer song them i go into prayer bless those beautiful words may lord to guide you and protect you. I ask lord put sheild over you to guide protect you all time. Bless you amen

  6. Ms. Housty. I just read this piece, and it mad emy heart soar. Thank you for your strength and committment to the land. I stand behind you–and BESIDE you.

  7. Jess, you have no idea how many legions of people are with you in mind and spirit.

  8. Thank you for sharing. May we always share our treasures – our families, our homes, our country, our world. We are one, no matter how greed tries to divide us.

  9. Thank you for this! We need more transparency and honesty – from all sides. As I read this, I was inspired. As a grandmother, I want better for all my grandchildren, for all my relations.

  10. Pingback: In the spirit of kindness | allanbaker

  11. Jess,
    I hope that you die an old, old woman and are able to share your story with your grandchildren about the defeat of the pipeline. I hope it will inspire them as they face up to their own battles–which I am sure will be there.
    Best wishes, and good luck with your thesis.
    Jim

  12. Dear Jess,

    I just wanted you to know that when I read this lovely piece, I nearly wept. I am a writer, photographer, and very committed activist in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania struggling with my fellows against extreme extraction. I recently was visited by the head of the State Police/FBI Terrorism Task Force–Mike Hutson–at my home, and while I have no criminal record–and certainly no record of violence–I learned in a very visceral way something I have know a long while: It doesn’t matter whether or not I can be or not be connected to any act of ecoterrorism–I can’t–THAT my words and photographs cost the fracking industry money–even just a dime–is enough to set into motion the wheels of egregious injustice to staunch the disruption of the seamless flow of gas from the shale fields to the LNG tankers, to the global markets, to the swelling offshore bank accounts of Chevron, EXXON, Anadarko, BP….

    SO, thanks for this lovely piece, and please accept my gesture of solidarity.

    Wendy Lynne Lee
    http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/02/when-gas-industry-uses-state-police-to.html

  13. You bet–to me as well. Thanks again!

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