Category Archives: Oil

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.

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,

20 films and short videos about tankers and pipelines

I read an email today letting people know that one of my favourite tanker-and-pipeline films is newly available to stream for free online.

Frank Wolf unofficially debuted “On the Line” in Bella Bella in May 2010 when we hosted an arts event called the Gathering Coastal Voices Festival. We had an amazing lineup of speakers, art exhibitions, live music, incredible seafood, and a multi-venue film festival to raise awareness about the threats posed by the Enbridge pipeline and increased tanker traffic on the coast.

Three and a half years later, there’s an impressive array of artistic protest and multimedia storytelling to voice our opposition. Thinking back to Gathering Coastal Voices made me realize just how diverse that list would be. So I thought I’d share some of my favourites!

In no particular order,

1. Groundswell: A Small Film about Making a Big Stand. We all have a responsibility to advocate for the places we love, and those marine mammals who have a voice – crazy surfers included – have a unique opportunity to be a voice for the marine mammals that can’t speak for themselves.

You can watch the trailer here, or stream/download the full film here (all proceeds support Raincoast Conservation Foundation).

2. Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez. The first time I watched this film, I wept. And the first time I heard Dr. Ricki Ott speak in person, I felt empowered by the knowledge that the survivors of this disaster are fighting at our side to help prevent this from happening on the BC coast.

You can watch a clip or buy the DVD here.

3. On the Line. We hear a lot about the proposed pipeline route, the hazards, the streams it crosses. See it for yourself through the eyes of two amazingly spirited men who traversed the 2,400 km. on foot, by bicycle, and by watercraft.

You can stream it for free here, and find a link to their TEDx talk about the project.

4. Stand and StandUp4GreatBear. When Norm Hann traveled the length of the proposed tanker route on his stand-up paddleboard, his arrival in Bella Bella inspired our youth so much that two woodshop classes at our local high school made their own wooden SUPs. These two films tell a pretty incredible story.

You can watch the Stand trailer here and purchase the DVD, and watch StandUp4GreatBear here.

5. Petropolis. It’s hard to understand how overwhelmingly huge and devastated the Tar Sands in Northern Alberta really are. Greenpeace gives you a window in with Petropolis. Short of being there for yourself and feeling the grit in your teeth (which I don’t recommend), this film can at least give you an aerial view that brings the visuals home in a very visceral way.

You can watch the trailer here, or learn more about the film here.

6. Reflections: Art for an Oil-free Coast. In the summer of 2012, Raincoast Conservation Foundation brought 50 incredible BC artists into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest to capture some of the magic of this place. I was privileged to meet them and spend time with them, and contribute to the book project that came out of the trips. Watch Reflections and see the deep connections between art and politics; there is beauty in dissent.

You can watch Reflections online here, and learn more about the book here.

7. SpOil, Oil in Eden, Cetaceans of the Great Bear Rainforest and Tipping Barrels. This quartet from Pacific Wild looks at Enbridge Northern Gateway from a variety of angles. SpOil looks at the pipelines and tankers through the lens (no pun intended) of world-class photographers, while Oil in Eden gives a powerful bird’s eye view. Cetaceans of the GBR is an engaging animation I’ve often used in school presentations that explores potential impacts on marine mammals. And Tipping Barrels is another view from the surfboard.

See them all for free! You can watch SpOil here, watch Oil in Eden here, watch Cetaceans of the GBR here and watch Tipping Barrels here.

8. From Tar Sands to Tankers: The Battle to Stop Enbridge. This is another good bird’s eye view of the issue. It’ll give you some quick insight into the project, its potential ramifications, and the First Nations and environmental opposition.

You can watch it online here.

9. Your Voice, Our Future. First Nations opposition to Enbridge Northern Gateway has been monumental. But not many of the films available to date are told in a strong First Nations voice from a deep, rich cultural perspective. Gaiasixa to the Wet’suwet’en for bringing that to the forefront with this film. It will move you.

You can watch it online here.

10. BC’s Huge Gamble. This is another great short piece on Northern Gateway, this one by Corey Ogilvie. It opens with a quote from Emily Carr: “There are no words, no paints to express all this, only a beautiful dumbness in the soul, life speaking to life.” Anyone’s who’s been to the coast will know that the majesty Carr points to in this quote absolutely lives here in the GBR.

You can watch it online here.

11. The Collected Works of Deep Rogue Ram. If the above pieces have worn you out (or worn you down), or if you simply don’t have time to watch a full documentary or short film, Deep Rogue Ram has lots of incisive and incredibly funny things you ought to watch. You can check out their whole Youtube channel here, but these are some of my favourites:

Janet and the Orca, an animated Dan Murphy spoof based on a leaked TV script for a canceled Enbridge ad.

Building a Butter Pipeline, for anyone nauseated by the new “Open to Better” TV ads Enbridge is running right now.

LaMar’s Tar Sands Souvenir Stand!, because Canada is NOT just a place full of polar bears.

Call the Tar Sands Love Line, for anyone worried about fallow pipeline tubes.

Tar Sandz Pimpin’, because who doesn’t love rapping puppets?

and the ever-popular Weathergirl Goes Rogue, which is an entirely appropriate reaction to climate change in my books.

Now, I know I’ve missed a ton of great films and short videos, and I know there are also amazing poems, books, music, art, journalism and more that I haven’t even touched. Leave your favourites in the comments and I’ll happily share round-ups of other creative work in the future!

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.


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.


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.


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!

Mnukvs wuaxdi: Tar Sands Healing Walk 2013

In 2012, one of my first council activities outside my community was a visit to Fort McMurray to attend the Tar Sands Healing Walk. It was one of the most powerful, beautiful and challenging experiences of my life, and I blogged about it here.

I was honoured to receive an invitation from the Keepers of the Athabasca to attend the Tar Sands Healing Walk again in 2013, and received permission from our leadership today to walk in solidarity on behalf of Heiltsuk this July.

There is grassroots and place-based power, and there are local issues that affect our community and territory. But we have brothers and sisters across the coast, the province, the country and this beautiful planet who have their own power too. Together, what we wield has an incredible ability to speak and heal.

I am pleased, proud, and deeply humbled by the opportunity to walk with the spirit of my people behind me to bring messages of healing, strength and collaboration to this important gathering.

Mnukvs wuaxdi

Mnukvs wuaxdi

As our community has found its voice around energy issues, our guiding value has held us steady: Mnukvs wuaxdi. One heart. I will be bringing my love and the love of my people in July, and I’m honoured to be one messenger on behalf of many.

Walas gaiasixa to the Keepers of the Athabasca for honouring me with an invitation.



One year ago today, I was standing on the tarmac of the Bella Bella airport, a half-step behind a line of hereditary chiefs in their traditional regalia. It was the day before our JRP hearings were set to begin, and the sched flight that was about to touch down was carrying the JRP panel members, Enbridge attorneys, allies to the Heiltsuk, witnesses speaking for our Nation, and our High Chief Woyala who was coming home to stand with his people.

It was the culmination of a huge planning effort driven by our whole community. As I stood behind our chiefs, I remember thinking how the community had grown around the issue from the first moment we heard rumblings around Enbridge Northern Gateway. The momentum had built and it was strong. As a community, we were prepared to stand up with dignity and integrity to be witnesses for the lands and waters that sustained our ancestors – that sustain us – that we believe should sustain our future generations.

As the plane landed on the airstrip, I could hear the noisemakers on the chiefs’ regalia rattling. Our Heiltsuk singers and drummers were on the other side of the chain-link fence and their voices were so powerful I felt the ache of that pride right in my marrow. Our youth, elders, and families were clustered behind them, grasping signs and banners, four generations of our people standing together seeking some expression for their deep fears over a proposed project that threatened 10,000 years of culture and nature integral to our identity as Heiltsuk people.

On a deeply personal level, I felt overwhelmed at that moment by the privilege of standing behind our chiefs on the tarmac. Those of you who know me know that I’m a shy person. I love to work hard, but I prefer to do it without fanfare. It took an issue like tankers and pipelines to make me realize that sometimes, the challenges you face are too big to let your personal fears limit your contribution to the fight. Enbridge catapulted me into an unexpected leadership position that created an incredible opportunity for me to be a voice and a force for the things I care about. At that time, I was one day away from filing papers to accept my nomination to run for Heiltsuk Tribal Council, and I was surrounded by a community of Heiltsuk people and their allies who had signalled huge trust in me with the work they’d given me in preparing for our hearings.

I remember the plane landing, and the slow taxi of the aircraft toward the airport building and the line of hereditary chiefs. I remember the singers’ voices swelling, and the sound of the chiefs’ rattles. I remember the plane door opening, the ladder dropping down. I remember our High Chief Woyala’s head and shoulders emerging from the interior of the plane, the look on his face when he saw his fellow chiefs waiting to greet him and all the other passengers – friend or foe – en route to the hearings. I remember his tears and his evident pride as he danced down the steps and across the tarmac to stand with his people. And I remember realizing that I was crying too, completely overtaken by the power and dignity of the people around me.

The gathering of the crowd, the dressing of the chiefs, the wait for the plane’s arrival all happened in slow motion for me. What came next was a blur. We’d made arrangements to greet the plane in the Heiltsuk way – to honour the passengers with a welcome dance from the chiefs and an invitation to feast with us that night. It was of importance that we do things according to our sacred customs and protocols – that we do things with honour in the Heiltsuk way. As the welcome dance ended and Woyala began his address to everyone gathered there – intended for community members, neighbouring First Nations, environmental allies, JRP panel members and Enbridge representatives alike – a small huddle of people darted from the plane past the chiefs, through the small airport building, and into a waiting taxi.

Many of you already know the story of what came next. The sound of a community member knocking on the window of the taxi and holding up a sign was reported as “possible gunshots”. The children and families lining the road with signs were painted as a dangerous mob. At the feast that night, which the panel members declined to attend, Heiltsuk leadership received an email notifying them that the hearings had been cancelled. The panel members and staff said they feared for their personal safety in the face of the day’s events.

When our elected Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett stood up before the community at the feast that night to read out the cancellation message, you could feel the weight of those words like a physical impact. We had done everything according to our teachings, and to feel the back of someone’s hand could hardly have been more of an insult.

Do I want to belabour that now? No, I don’t. Because in a sense, it’s the least interesting thing that happened that week. We could have let that decision by the JRP settle like poison in our bodies. But what we chose instead continues to be the greatest source of strength and inspiration I’ve seen in my own life.

What happened was nation building. What happened was community building. Maybe it felt different if you weren’t here. We were isolated, and people were trying to shame us for our actions. For an instant, that fear made me vulnerable. But when I looked around me at all the people gathered at that feast, the fear turned to gratitude and the gratitude made me strong.

Why was it nation building? The room was full of Heiltsuk people who had just been insulted for practicing their culture and adhering to their traditional values and practices. And when they had to choose their response, I am proud that they refused to accept the shame and anger being pushed on us. The room was filled with community members who collectively asserted that the integrity of our cultural identity is the root of our strength as a people. At no point were we willing to apologize for upholding our traditions and acting with the peace and dignity inherent in our cultural protocols.

Why was it community building? We had neighbouring Nations standing with us – Gitga’at, Kitasoo-Xaixais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv. We had regional leaders from First Nations Summit and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, allies from the Lubicon Cree. We had friends in the environmental community from Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club BC, Greenpeace Canada, Pacific Wild. Our MLA was in attendance. We were blessed by their presence. And one by one, they stood up to address our Heiltsuk people.

The power of their voices made us more resilient as they asserted that they’d witnessed our words and actions, and upheld that they were spoken and done with honour. The power of our friends and our leaders gave us the guidance we needed to move through the coming days.

It’s been a year since that day. I remember the chaos of trying to get the hearings back on track, the frustration of losing 1.5 days of testimony from our elders and knowledge-keepers. I remember sitting in the back of the room at the hearings, fighting to stay composed when our elders walked off the stand in protest – their evidence undelivered – after needless heckling and interruptions. Funnily enough, I remember my phone crashing as it tried to load the notifications for all the messages being sent to me by strangers around the world who were using social media to stand with us in that little auditorium. Some of my dearest friends today were strangers a year ago and I’ve never stopped being grateful for that first time they reached out.

The words that come into my mind when I think about a year ago aren’t dark. I remember gratitude, dignity, strength, resilience and grace. The images are the same. I remember the power of the testimony unfolding in front of a sea of red armbands, a packed room expressing silent solidarity with the witnesses who were speaking. There was a lot of beauty in that week, and it’ll be an inspiration to me for as long as I live.

I also have a huge amount of personal gratitude for the role I was given in all those proceedings. One year has passed by. I’m eleven months into my first term on Heiltsuk Tribal Council. I still get pulled aside in the street by chiefs, elders, community members, children. They ask the questions, express the concerns, and give me the direction I need to uphold the privilege of working for my people – both in my political work, and in my community organizing.

I’m surrounded by friends who came into my life in a time that would have been more difficult if not for the amazing wonder of new beginnings that they represented to me.

I live in a place where the water in the rivers isn’t different from the blood in our Heiltsuk veins, where we’re surrounded by the bounty that’s sustained our people since time before memory. And we’ve never forgotten the honour and obligation of stewarding it.

All those things were blessings, and they’re still blessings today. It taught me important lessons about vulnerability and fear – about sovereignty and governance – about unity and beauty. It was positive, and it was transformative, and I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you for being a part of transforming me.