Monthly Archives: March 2014

Opening the doors

In 2007, a handful of people who let me walk a half-step ahead of them came up with a plan:

Open a library in Bella Bella with books of every genre, there for all ages in the community.

Most people in most places take libraries for granted. Most small town have one, or there’s one within driving distance. But for a community of 1,500 people living on a remote island, we story-lovers thought it was past time to make it a reality.

Over the course of 6 years, we transformed a very small space into an overflowing library with nearly 4,000 incredible books. Turned out the library was a story in and of itself. We had a whole shelf of books donated and inscribed to the library by all the shining literary stars of my once-upon-a-time undergrad in English. And every time a parent or grandparents came in to read to a child, every time a community member came in on a crashing wave of excitement to tell me about a new title they wanted, it made my heart feel so strong.

In July 2013, a catastrophic fire destroyed the building that housed the library. In that fire, we also lost important services like our post office and grocery store, along with the office of my non-profit (which serves as the umbrella organization for the library).

Eight months later, we’re opening our doors again. Thanks to the donation of a beautiful facility, we have a new space that’s been transformed by a local carpenter into cedar palace. The kindest strangers in the world sent thousands of books. We’re bouncing right back to where we left off with around 4,000 books in a beautiful new collection.

Today is the day our library is reborn. Today is the day we celebrate with our community and our friends.

Today, I woke up and burst into tears.

Granny always told me not to hold grief in my heart. But so much love and hope went into that first library, and I think a part of my heart never recovered from the day I waded through knee-high black pulp and ashes where our books used to be. I can’t express how deep that pain was, but so many of the people who responded to our call for help knew intuitively. I will treasure for the rest of my life the letters that came with many of the donations, the emails people sent.

Today, I’m letting go of the pain. Maybe you think it’s silly to feel this way. It’s just books, after all. But books are stories, and stories are all I am.

I don’t have any idea – no idea at all – how to express my gratitude to the many, many people who had a hand in raising this space up again and filling it with books and hope. They’ll be thanked more eloquently in other media when I’m working and writing more professionally.

For now, I just want to thank everyone from a deeply personal place for helping to make today a day of healing for me and my bruised little story-heart. The pain is gone, and it’s been nudged out by hope. I can’t even begin to imagine what I’ll do with that new freedom, and I’m grateful for it.



A note to my friends in journalism: Be better.

“Everyone does it,” you might argue. “Why single out CBC?”

Because this is an excellent illustrative example. I get that it’s standard to dump in whatever photos you have on hand that seem vaguely topical. I get that the people who author the articles don’t necessarily pick the accessories. But someone is doing this, and they need to stop.

On March 18, CBC posted this article. I am not disputing the content of the article. I think it’s wonderful and frankly well past time that we acknowledge the incredible work Nations are doing to create sustainable industries that make sense in their communities.

But leaving aside the written content, let’s look at the images. First we see Squamish Chief Ian Campbell in regalia at a treaty ceremony. Second, we see Cree and Tsleil-wau-tuth members drumming and smudging. Third, we see Heiltsuk chiefs in regalia at a protest. Fourth, we see an image of indigenous people engaging in what looks to be an Idle No More demonstration at the Peace Arch crossing.

Here’s my question: What does this have to do with tourism?

I’ve seen phenomenal images come out of Spirit Bear Lodge, the ecotourism venture operated by my neighbours to the north at Kitasoo-Xaixais First Nation. It’s just one of several businesses mentioned in this article that are taking on innovative and exciting initiatives – and meeting vibrant success in doing so.

First of all, for the simple sake of accuracy, why isn’t CBC going the extra step of seeking out photos that are actually on topic? It wouldn’t be difficult. The people running these businesses are smart, and I bet many of them would value the opportunity to showcase some of the images coming out of their ventures.

Second of all, CBC and all your competitors – why are you not trying to be better? By including the photos you chose to attach to this article, you are reinforcing negative stereotypes of angry Indians who are just looking for something to protest. This, oddly enough, is totally inconsistent with the spirit of your article, and so I fail to see why you’re playing into this outdated notion.

Further, I am offended by your implication that any instance of First Nations people practicing their culture and customs is fair game for you to generalize as a spectacle. Were those Heiltsuk hereditary chiefs or Idle No More demonstrators protesting as a performance for tourists? I don’t think so. Was Chief Campbell’s attendance at the treaty ceremony intended as a spectacle for visitors? How about the sacred smudging and drumming of our Cree and Tsleil-wau-tuth relatives? I don’t think so.

Do not mistake ceremony for spectacle. Do not mistake ritual for entertainment.

Our Nations are already challenged to draw clear lines in terms of what is and is not appropriate to share with tourists and the public in cultural performances attached to our specific tourism ventures. You are not helping by appropriating images depicting ceremony and deploying them out of context with the implication that they are therefore equal to entertainment.

As a final note, I’d like to recommend the following gesture of respect:

If you are talking about a Nation, an individual, or a name in an indigenous language, check your spelling. Then double check it. Typos can be avoided and names are sacred. I’m not just saying this because it’s my Nation’s name you misspelled. I’m saying this because it is a mistake you can – and must – avoid.

If you won’t change your practices as a gesture of respect, be mercenary. Do it so you look less foolish and outdated.