PHOTO OF “ARROWMAKER”
TITLE: ‘ARROWMAKER’ and “Reconciliation”
Post cover pages ‘Roman numerals’ re: author notes/ recommendations etc.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1/ The Title and Cover: “Arrowmaker” and “Reconciliation”
2/ Reconciliation between Settlers and First Nations
3/ I heard The Eagles’ Piercing Cries
4/ The Matriarch of Tahltan
5/ Residential Schools, The Sixties Scoop and Reconciliation
6/ The Fresco Says It All
7 / ‘The Shopping Cart Injustice’ and ‘reconciliation’.
8/ The Pit-house, and Sweat Lodge Ceremony
9/ The Burning Ceremony
10/ Imagining Futures
11/ Reconciliation Between Canadians and Nature
12/ Nature as an Exploitable Resource or as an Interdependent World
13/ Nature is a vitamin
14/ My Progenitors
15/ The Sea Is A Womb
16/ Grace Harbour
17/ Marathon of Hope For Habitat
18/ Slide Away Cities
19/ Spiders’ Rigging
20/ The Land Is A Loom
22/ Inuksuk Hunter
23/ Language and Culture
24/ The Language of the Speakers’ Staff 25/ Bibliography
26/27 info pages / author notes; recommendations
1/ The Title and Cover: ‘Arrowmaker’ and Reconciliation
Arrowmaker is a photograph from 1903. I chose it to become the cover for my book. His features tell a proud story. I have carried ‘Arrowmaker’ with me since 1960. His kind eyes, strength of presence, and his cultural insignia of rank and station have given me comfort in times of stress. He has inspired me to do better, to seek learning about my settler history and to seek ‘reconciliation. In fact he has InDspired for decades. I have always considered him as a welcoming presence. Why else would I have packed, carried, protected and kept his image close to me even when I worked the Alaska Highway as a social worker and became part of the 60s scoop. He spoke to me then ‘When I heard The Eagles’ Piercing Cries.’
By chance, I found a discarded photograph framed in wood of Ojibwe Elder Arrowmaker. Someone had hand raised the soft photo paper on which this black and white photo was printed and had then applied an artful hand in water colour over the relief of Arrowmaker’s countenance. That person had immense skill and had shown respect for an historical photo. Was it a priceless photo-painting lost after a tragic death. Had someone read his proud features, aqnd had learned about his culture and history, that he called his people “Anishinaabeg” which means “Original People”, an Algonkian-speaking tribe that held sway from Ontario to Montana? His people had practiced democratic decision when in Europe monarchies held power. When the Europeans arrived he and his people would teach them about democracy. Just think about that. He and his people had educated their children according to ways and traditions that had served their people well for thousands of years. Moreover, they had welcomed and protected Europeans to these shores. Arrowmaker became my totem of welcome.
The photo of Arrowmaker inspired me, one could say ‘InDspired’ me, to study some courses in anthropology. Someone might criticize me for carrying an image of a ‘Noble Savage’. I reject the phrase the ‘Noble Savage’ because of the ignorant racist attitude that proves. One could be ‘noble’ but uncivilized and in need of acculturation.
The phrase, ‘The Noble Savage’ was first used by John Dryden in his play ‘The Conquest of Granada (1672) and later became an aspect of 18th-century ‘sentimentalism’ that morals are formed by emotions that spring from human goodness, the so-called ‘moral sense theory’ of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury. Apparently, the origin of the phrase has been incorrectly attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau who used it in his political philosophy and moral psychology.
Arrowmaker was ‘noble’ for me, and still is but as a person of culture, accomplishment, who was a descendent of generations of his people, and the carrier of wisdom as a respected elder. While it would be naïve to think that he had no faults, my imagination carried me to all of his goodness.
Because of Arrowmaker, I was introduced to the works of Franz Boas a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology. Boas was a prominent opponent of the theory of ‘scientific racism’. In contrast to the claims of racial anthropologists who claimed that the shape of the cranium could predict intelligence and culture, Boas worked to demonstrate that differences in human behavior are largely the result of cultural differences acquired through social learning. Boas introduced the concept of ‘cultural relativism’, which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct, but that all human beings view the world through the filters of their own cultures.
In my third year of study, I became a mentor for literacy on the ‘Musqueam’ reserve which occupies a large part of Point Grey where UBC is situated. The whole of Point Grey is on ‘Musqueam’ un-ceded territory.
Arrowmaker held the most prominent position on a wall of my flat. Little did I know that after graduation from UBC I would apply for a job in The Department of Social Welfare – as it was called then – and be posted to the Alaska Highway to become part of the ‘Sixties Scoop’. My training in ethnology would put me in direct conflict with the government of BC when children were ‘abducted’ by ‘servants of the crown’ from good Indian parents because they were following age old cultural customs of childbearing.
2/ ‘RECONCILIATION’ Between Settlers and First Nations
Arrowmaker lived close to the time when treaties were being made with settlers. Far in the future would be ‘The Truth And Reconciliation Commission’ that asks Canadians to face the truth about broken treaties, about our European-settler history with First Nations, the history of ‘impounding’ aboriginal children in ‘residential schools’ to strip them of proud cultures and assimilate them by force. The finding of Arrowmaker also reminded me that I need ‘healing’ myself as I had been involved in the 60’s scoop of ‘indigenous children’ taken into foster care of white families.
In 1963, a magistrate in Lower Post B.C., took the children of ‘The Matriarch of Talhtan’ into the custody of the Child Welfare Department. The R.C.M.P., the local nurse and the Regional Director for the Department of Social Welfare situated in Ft St John had recommended that action. No one spoke in support of The Matriarch of Talhtan. I was present as a new social worker. I had been on duty for two weeks after a six week ‘in training program’ in Maple Ridge,B.C..
I had been hired to be the only ‘social worker’ for the far northwest and northeast portions of the province. The position had been vacant for over six months because of the job involved constant travel, isolation, dangerous driving in all seasons both on and off the gravel road of the Alaska Highway. The route started at the community of Wonowon northward past Pink Mountain, Trutch, Ft Nelson, Muncho Lake, Lower Post and extended to Cassiar, Telegraph Creek and Atlin. I carried a survival pack including a gun, tent, sleeping bag, food and medical supplies for emergencies. The truckers travelled the Alaska Highway in convoys only once a week so I needed to be ready to look after myself. It was a challenge and an adventure for a young single man. My accommodation while on the route was with local families, trappers, police, oblate missions, Hudson Bay Co. managers, and foster parents.
I was twenty-five years of age when the children were taken. Unknown to me, I had become part of the 60s sweep of aboriginal children. For my remaining time on that job- about 14 months – I became a whistleblower. I urged the government to return the seized children since trapping on the Davis Trail was a traditional Talhtan cultural practice, and giving birth in a trappers’ cabin was not bad motherhood. I used my limited UBC knowledge in ethnology to defend indigenous practices. However, the Social Welfare Department had decided beforehand to take the remaining three children of ‘The Matriarch of Talhtan’ into custody.
When I returned to Ft St John from Lower Post the photo of ‘Arrowmaker’ looked at me. Three aboriginal children had been abducted because of a cultural custom that was deemed inappropriate. That had been the excuse. On my living room wall, in my small apartment, Arrowmaker was speaking to me.
I reached out to Bridgit Moran, a dissident ‘social worker’ in Prince George. As whistleblowers we opposed the taking of children from ‘native’ families because of ‘cultural practices’ that did not fit with the urban, southern and non-aboriginal point of view. The social workers in Prince George did a review of current case load sizes, the need for special services for first nation children on and off reserves. I did a survey of the lack of service in the north. We recommended concrete actions. When the government would neither give us a hearing, nor read our reports I decided to go public. The whole story broke in the Vancouver Sun. W.A.C. Bennett lashed out at me publicly, denied the findings of my report, and fired me. Bridget Moran and four social workers from Prince George came to my defense, and supported my findings. Moreover, they backed up my report with a report from Prince George. Bridgit Moran and four social worker colleagues were fired by the province. Bridgit and I were never rehired. We refused to recant and humbly return to our jobs to follow orders with no recourse to dialogues for improvement. Four social workers signed a very public apology and swore never to criticize the government again. I cannot help but think that the Bennett government action against criticism allowed the ‘60s Sweep’ to pick up momentum without any in house push back. The social workers were afraid of getting fired. The government of W.A.C. Bennett made a public display of our dismissals and demanded silence and obedience regardless of personal views and conscience. I was told that I would not be hired as a social worker anywhere in Canada. That story can be read in my book, ‘Markings In The Mail By A Sidney Boy’, and in the book by Bridgit Moran entitled, ‘The Little Rebellion’.
This is a real life event that touched me profoundly. I was forced to take native children into the custody of the provincial child welfare system. When I heard ‘The Eagles’ Piercing Cries’ I became a whistleblower, an advocate to right the wrongs that our governments have inflicted on ‘First Nations’.
An Indian mother is in her last month of pregnancy. The mother has a head cold but intends to go to a cabin on the Davis Trail with her trapper husband. She goes to the medical clinic in Lower Post where she asks for medication for her cold. She also wants some ‘antibiotics’ in case her baby needs them. She is told that she must promise not to go to the trappers’ cabin because she is close to giving birth. The mother leaves the clinic empty handed because she wanted to follow her custom of travelling and helping her husband. The nurse has refused to give out medications. She will do that only if the mother stays at the clinic. The mom had previously given birth to her other babies on the trap line and goes trapping.
Here is my account of what happened. I tell the story in a shape that suggests an electrocardiogram that shows the beating rhythms of the tragic tale. It is a sad story of conflict between cultures. I hope that no one is offended. All is written with the deepest of respect for the Tahltan People. The composition is intended to be read aloud.
I Heard the Eagles’ Piercing Cries!
The Story of a
Trap Line Pregnancy.
I was silent witness to this story that unfolds
Until I heard the Eagles’ cries
Saw all with Eagles’ eyes
And I became a Whistle Blower of the Skies.
The Matriarch of Tahltan.
To the Clinic Nurse.
“Baby’s heart is beating good
But gotta go with Joey,
Go trappin’ cabin loop.
Baby kicking pretty good
Punching me in belly
Pop out soon
On trap line.
We’ll try traders’ snow machine
Says to use it.
Easier ‘an dogs.
We’ll do five cabin route
He likes having kids.
If baby come
The nurse said,
“I’ll give you maternity care but don’t you dare go with Joey on the trap line
YOU STAY RIGHT HERE IN THE CLINIC
You’re too close to your time.”
Said the Mom.
“I done three on the line.”
She was Eagle clan
Matriarch of Taltan.
Riding tandem on machine
Tummy holding life
Heart beats double, bigger now and the cardio rhythm rebounds
Against Joey’s bum.
Smell of oily smoke.
Staccato whine of throttle goosing skidoo and sled
Skin numb, frostbite
Sharp air swirls in clouds
Shadow go, tree go, sky go, colour go, signs go ,trail go, sight go, skin tight.
Asteroids in flight
Slice Joey’s eyes
By blue pained light seen before the end of sight
In a day of night
Swirling towards a ‘Worlding Door’
That’s No More, Piston puller dead.
Can’t sniff ahead.
No bitches’ yelp
No huskies’ help
From fur and blood.
In snow numb
Fetus beating like a Drum Baby coming all but Done Taltan Elders Come
All Their Relations, Calling All Creations
The Shuffle of Their Feet to the Rawhide Drum
Deep gut chanting Whole bod panting
from throat and tum
Dead But Done.
‘The infant’ was unwrapped.
At the settlement
A fur parcel.
Her hands hold
A terracotta doll
Lifted as an offering to Mother Earth
Placenta tissue burned by cold
Like an artifact
I saw anguish in Mothers’ eyes.
The clinic nurse said,
“That’s a crime. No good Mom chooses birthing on a trap line.
It was thirty below with blowing snow. Take her other kids and place them in foster care
IT’S CHILD NEGLECT”
I saw anger in Health Care Eyes.
Cops seized Mom’s other kids at grandpa’s.
They would disappear
Like nested eaglets knocked to free fall
By a loggers saw
To downward despair
When I was there
For The Righteous and The Just, Their Will be done on Earth as it is ‘engraven’
By culture given
Did I ask them why?
Did I hear the Eagles’ piercing cries?
I saw hate in the Mothers’ eyes.
“Give my kids back
I’m a good Mom.
I done three on the line.
It ain’t no crime”
She was Eagle clan
Matriarch of Taltan.
Wild spirit soared in Native eyes and I heard the Eagle’s piercing cries.
I was silent witness to this story
Until I heard the Eagles’ cries
When I saw all with Eagles’ eyes
And I became a
Whistle Blower of the Skies.
4/Matriarch of Talhtan
You lost your children to The 60s Scoop
Because you trapped the Davey Trail loop
And your baby died
And how you cried
When your other children
Were taken south, sent overseas
To be acculturated by degrees.
Sister separated from your son
You hear the truth in the sound of drum
You hear voices in rustling leaves – they come
In your secret life is a sacred knife
Your song within the web of life,
Never written nor forbidden
Tingling along in the song of water
Through arms, and rocks and wings, you sing.
You exhale yourself to the world in pain
And you inhale the world back in again.
Your skin is porous to the web of life
You care for sacred balance not for strife.
For the European nurse the trapping trail was a curse.
And her cultural prejudice had made it worse.
I regretted my part when I heard your Eagles’ voice
I seek truth for healing but can’t rejoice
Too many children are still being taken
From native mothers who are shaken.
The anthropology of Franz Boas that taught me about cultural relativism had helped me to take a position different from my supervisors. Studies in genetics had proven that the idea that certain races are biologically superior were false. Anthropology had become for ‘those with eyes to see’ the best antidote to racism. All animals are part of the biosphere and humans inhabit both the biosphere and something that they have built by their cultures, the ‘ethnosphere’. The word ‘ethnosphere’ was coined by anthropologist Wade Davis who defines it ‘as the social life of humans that is the sum total of all ideas and intuitions, myths and memories, and inspirations from human imagination since the dawn of consciousness’.
Ruth Benedict, a student of Franz Boas wrote, “The whole purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human diversity”. Indeed, anthropology and genetics have joined to become a vital voice of reason to prove that ‘race’ is a fiction, that we are all cut from the same genetic cloth, that we all originate from one tribe.
Peoples have created varieties of experiences and explanations to try to understand the concept of ‘The Devine’. These explanations are based on their myths, locations of habitation, experiences and languages.
It is now clear that every culture speaks a truth, and has an understanding as how to be, but none have a monopoly on the ‘Devine’.
As I have travelled and learned among ‘first nations’ I carried the photograph of Arrowmaker with me. How can I explain the power of that image? Somehow I sensed an intangible cultural heritage, his traditional knowledge and skills, his sense of place with huge intimate connections and ‘knowings’.
Those who started the ‘60s Scoop’ must not have had an understanding of modern anthropology and genetics, or perhaps, old racist ideas ‘subliminally’ still controlled their actions. As a result, welfare authorities took 20,000 aboriginal children from their homes and placed them in foster care, or allowed them to be adopted by non-indigenous families in Canada and overseas.
It is good that Canada has recently offered $750 million in compensation in a promise ‘to end a terrible legacy’. However, the systemic problems that caused the ‘60s Scoop’ still remain. The ‘Calls to Action’ in the Final Report of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission must be implemented for real healing to occur.
5/Residential Schools, The Sixties Scoop and Reconciliation
In 1867, Canada became a nation as The Dominion of Canada. The word ‘dominion’ means sovereignty or control over a territory. In 2017, many Canadians celebrated the 150th Birthday of Canada. For most of the First Nations in Canada we got the date wrong, and the word ‘dominion’ is nothing to celebrate.
Other words related to ‘dominion’ are ‘domineer’; to behave in an arrogant and overbearing way; and ‘domination’; to oppress and control. From the beginning of the Dominion, domination of the ‘First Nations’ was a government agenda.
That was unfortunate since when we Europeans first appeared in North America the tribal confederacies welcomed us. Alliances were made between the tribes and the new comers. Later on treaties were made as between equals. Commercial arrangements were made. One could say that there was a sort of dream of cooperation between equals on ‘Turtle Island’ or North America. But that dream was shattered by greed, by arrogance, and by racism. The rulers either discarded the treaties and agreements or broke them by unilateral interpretation. Many written documents were signed by tribal leaders who could not read English. The settlers and governments took every fraudulent advantage to grab control even when treaties were signed.
I wish we could turn back the pages to the period of ‘contact’ between settlers and ‘first nations’ when we, the settlers, were welcomed. I like to think that Arrowmaker was among those Indian leaders who wanted to share this ‘native land’ with us. That was a Canadian dream that until now has been lost. Are we willing to rediscover that Canadian dream? I think that there is a good chance of doing that if we face the truth of history, recognize the errors and injustices, and take corrective actions. Then we can reach a new day of ‘reconciliation and healing’. Let us face the truth.
First of all, we need to face the fact that imperial and commercial interests that drove the motor of colonialism soon dictated that aboriginal peoples be subjugated, controlled and disempowered. Racism had a big part of it as well.
The white-supremacist views of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, were extreme even by the standards of his time. He was the only politician in parliamentary debates to refer to Canada as Aryan and to argue that racism could be legalized on the basis of biology. Inferior genetics, he reasoned, resulted in inferior cultural practices. His viewpoint made possible every imaginable action against the ‘first nations’, and measures to exclude Asians.
Native ceremonies were banned, the people were imprisoned for dancing, the elders were disempowered, systems of governance were ridiculed and forbidden, and the children were taken away to residential schools. Our first Prime Minister, Sir John A McDonald said this in 1879:
“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages and although he may learn to read and write his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.”
A key aspect of his plan for national expansion westward was to prepare the land by the forced removal of indigenous communities from their traditional territories, essentially clearing the plains of aboriginal people to make way for railway construction and settlement.
Settlers helped by agents and outlaws drove the herds of buffalo to near extinction. The resulting hunger was exploited by commissioning a secret study into aspects of death by starvation. ‘Indians’ were used as lab rats for science. Did you know that? Indian Hospitals were places for experimentation on an inferior race. Meanwhile, agents promised food supplies, water and housing as a lures to pull the people to reserves. Once the Indians got to the reserves, the provision of rations was used as a threat. Indian agents were known to limit rations to enforce control. Some insisted that rations would be given for families of two children but not any bigger. An agent would actually say, you are not allowed to have any more babies. Did you know that?
As well as travelling with Arrowmaker all these years, I have carried a book of poetry called Flint and Feather by Pauline Johnson, Mohawk poet, writer, artist and performer. The Cattle Thief reveals the tragedy of starvation inflicted on the ‘first peoples’. Emily Pauline Johnson, a gifted writer and poised speaker, toured Canada and the United States, captivating audiences with her flare for the dramatic arts. She was born on March 10th 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve and died in Vancouver BC on March 7th 1913.
THE CATTLE THIEF
They were coming across the prairie, they were galloping hard and fast;
For the eyes of those desperate riders had sighted their man at last-
Sighted him off to Eastward, where the Cree encampment lay,
Where the cotton woods fringed the river, miles and miles away.
Mistake him? Never! Mistake him? The famous Eagle Chief!
That terror to all the settlers, that desperate Cattle Thief—
That monstrous, fearless Indian, who lorded it over the plain,
Who thieved and raided, and scouted, who rode like a hurricane!
But they’ve tracked him across the prairie; they’ve followed him hard and fast;
For those desperate English settlers have sighted their man at last.
Up they wheeled to the tepees, all their British blood aflame,
Bent on bullets and bloodshed, bent bringing down their game;
But they searched in vain for the Cattle Thief: that lion had left his lair,
And they cursed like a troop of demons—for the women alone were there.
“The sneaking Indian coward,” they hissed; “he hides while yet he can;
He’ll come in the night for cattle, but he’s scared to face a man.”
“Never!” and up from the cotton woods rang the voice of Eagle Chief;
And right out into the open stepped, unarmed, the Cattle Thief.
Was that the game they coveted? Scarce fifty years had rolled
Over that fleshless, hungry frame, starved to the bone and old;
Over that wrinkled, tawny skin, unfed by the warmth of blood.
Over those hungry, hollow eyes that glared for the sight of food.
He turned, like a hunted lion: “I know not fear,” said he;
And the words outleapt from his shrunken lips in the language of the Cree.
“I’ll fight you, white-skins, one by one, till I kill you all,” he said;
But the threat was scarcely uttered, ere a dozen balls of lead
Whizzed through the air about him like a shower of metal rain,
And the gaunt old Indian Cattle Thief dropped dead on the open plain.
And that band of cursing settlers gave one triumphant yell,
And rushed like a pack of demons on the body that writhed and fell.
“Cut the fiend up into inches, throw his carcass on the plain;
Let the wolves eat the cursed Indian, he’d have treated us the same.”
A dozen hands responded, a dozen knives gleamed high,
But the first stroke was arrested by a woman’s strange wild cry.
And out into the open, with courage past belief,
She dashed, and spread her blanket o’er the corpse of the Cattle Thief;
And the words outleapt from her shrunken lips in the language of the Cree,
“If you mean to touch that body, you must cut your way through me.”
And that band of cursing settlers dropped backward one by one,
For they knew that an Indian woman roused, was a woman to let alone.
And then she raved in a frenzy that they scarcely understood,
Raved of the wrongs she had suffered since her earliest babyhood:
“Stand back, stand back, you white-skins, touch that dead man to your shame;
You have stolen my father’s spirit, but his body I only claim.
You have killed him, but you shall not dare to touch him now he’s dead.
You have cursed, and called him a Cattle Thief, though you robbed him first of bread—
Robbed him and robbed my people—look there, at that shrunken face,
Starved with a hollow hunger, we owe to you and your race.
What have you left to us of land, what have you left of game,
What have you brought but evil, and curses since you came?
How have you paid us for our game? How paid us for our land?
By a book, to save our souls from the sins you brought in your other hand?
Go back with your new religion, we never have understood
Your robbing an Indian’s body, and mocking his soul with food.
Go back with your new religion, and find – if find you can—
The honest man you have ever made from out a starving man.
You say your cattle are not ours, your meat is not our meat;
When you pay for the land you live in, we’ll pay for the meat we eat.
Give back our land and our country, give back our herds of game;
Give back the fur and the forests that were ours before you came;
Give back the peace and the plenty. Then come with your new belief,
And blame, if you dare, the hunger that drove him to be a thief.”
The herds of bison roamed north and south through the great plains. This was one of the great migrations upon which indigenous peoples depended. The American government also wanted to drive the Indians out of the west. The US army of the day together with settlers slaughtered the buffalo until piles of bones stood two stories high. I have heard some people blame ‘the Americans’ for the way they sought to eliminate ‘the Indian problem’. Have we forgotten that Canadians are equally culpable.
Many of us forget that promises were made in treaties about housing, clean water and inherent rights in the land. Demanding these things is not asking for handouts but is ‘standing up’ to remind us that commitments ought to be honoured. People have broken the silence and descendants of both the oppressed and the oppressors are speaking out to reveal the truth, and to ask for healing – and reconciliation.
The IdleNoMore movement calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution to honour indigenous rights and to protect land and water.
“First Nation’s Peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them—will determine the fate of the planet.” – Guardian,UK. That is my idea exactly, that reconciliation with ‘First Nation’s Peoples and with ‘biospehere’ go hand in hand.
Those who say that a government apology is enough may not have considered the debts still owed from the broken treaties and promises. Bad consequences are still happening. Consider the ‘missing and murdered woman’, the higher percentage of suicides on reserves, the prisons loaded with aboriginals, the poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and lack of potable water.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 stated that Aboriginal rights to land and resources would remain a right of Indians unless negotiated away by treaty. That was in many cases honoured and applied, treaties were signed and then were often broken by settlers in the east and on the prairies. Few treaties were negotiated or signed in BC. It was not until 1990 that BC acknowledged the need to negotiate treaties when it set up the ‘BC Treaty Commission’.
In the 1990s I taught school in Chehalis, BC, and on the reserve I heard about the Indian residential school at Mission, St. Mary’s Mission Indian Residential School. In the cathedral is a fresco that I write about later in “The Fresco Tells It All”. Stories of cultural and sexual abuse have been repeated in personal testimonies to the “Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” The ‘Sixties Scoop’ of aboriginal children had effected many people in Chehalis. As I had been a part of that in northern BC I participated in sweat lodge ceremonies, and tried to expiate memories of my inability to stop what was wrong. Children were taken from aboriginal parents, put into white foster homes, sent out of the country, families separated from their children, and siblings from siblings. All of that happened not because of bad parenting but because we wanted the ‘Indian way of life’ and Indians to disappear.
I recommend that readers visit the government website to hear and to witness audio-visual testimonies of the abuse, physical, emotional, and sexual that occurred, and the attempt to place shame on Indian cultural practices.
While teaching in Chehalis, BC, I also learned of the promises made by Governor James Douglas. Governor Douglas promised to create treaties with the Sto:lo and other tribes in the province. His plan was to create reserves of considerable size, of at least 40 hectares per family. Douglas also promised the Sto:lo fair compensation for all the land outside of the reserves being occupied by settlers. The Sto:lo were also given permission to pre-empt or purchase land outside of the reserves. While setting up the reserves the Sto:lo were asked to help mark the territories themselves as it was recognized that only they would know the boundaries, the sacred sites, the fishing camps, the weir locations and burial grounds. This plan was very enlightened for its time and in 1864 Sergeant William McColl was directed by Douglas to create the reserves. The surveyors outlined 15,760 hectors through present day Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Mission. That was a very extensive parcel of land, but small in comparison to that occupied by the settlers.
The retirement of James Douglas, and the death of McColl led to the appointment of Joseph Trutch as the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works who took charge of the reserves. He immediately reduced the size of the reserves by 91% and removed all rights from the Sto:lo for their governance or the purchase of lands. Joseph Trutch, like John A. McDonald was a racist. The statues and street names of these men who were ‘honoured’ in the past should be collected for the creation of an historical and educational display for the ‘dishonourables’ in our evolved present.
The beginning of modern, evolved times with regard to ‘First Nations’ perhaps began with the defeat of ‘The White Paper’, of 1969. The 1969 White Paper (formally known as the “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969”) was a Canadian government policy paper that attempted to abolish previous legal documents pertaining to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Indian Act and treaties, and to assimilate all “Indian” peoples under the Canadian state. The word “Indian” was to be removed from every document, and the “Indian Act” abolished. “Indians” would become Canadians by relinquishing all rights previously guaranteed.
First Nation communities reacted with passion across Canada. With focused power they created a political backlash with the help of enlightened settler descendants. The ‘White Paper’ was defeated. With that win the momentum grew.
The National Indian Brotherhood presented their own policy paper,” Indian Control of Education: Policy Paper, 1972. When that paper was accepted a huge movement towards reconciliation had occurred. When movement toward reconciliation appeared to be on base for a home run the federal government threw a curve ball. The government would bring the constitution home to Canada from Great Britain. The founding document of Canada would be based in Canada, and no longer be a British Act of Parliament. The government draft papers did not intend to include any mention of aboriginal treaties or rights promised to ‘Indians’ by the British Crown. There would be no reference to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 or to inherent rights, and the necessity of negotiated treaties.
Once again Indians mobilized from coast to coast to coast. George Manuel, chief of the National Indian Brotherhood, known today as the Assembly of First Nations, and President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs developed “The Aboriginal Rights Position Paper”. He organized ‘The Indian Constitutional Express’ a railroad express to Ottawa to demand inclusion of ‘Indian Rights’ in the patriated constitution.
The government was overwhelmed and highly impressed by both the arguments and the steadfastness of the national voice of the ‘first nations’. The original decision not to include ‘first peoples’ rights’ was reversed. So in 1982 section ‘35’ was added to the new constitution where it was written that the rights of ‘first nations’ are affirmed and conserved. That inclusion could have resulted in negotiation between the Government of Canada and ‘First Nations’. Ever since chapter #35 was included in the ‘constitution’ governments should have negotiated with ‘Indigenous Peoples’ to take legislative and policy steps to implement those rights. However, the Government of Canada did nothing, and waited for the ‘First Nations’ to litigate. Since then scores of decisions by the courts have been made that recognize ‘first peoples’ rights’. In case after case the ‘first people’ have won. Instead of seeking to ‘negotiate’ to prevent further court cases each time that step was ignored.
The next step in ‘reconciliation’ is for governments and companies to ‘negotiate’ and not to ‘litigate’. Litigation is costly. Too often corporations and governments use litigation as a form of intimidation or way of getting resource projects started without negotiation even when success in court is unlikely. Real reconciliation will require a change of heart, a decision to negotiate not litigate.
Legislation should be adopted that reflects the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Of great importance are action items #43 and #44 because Canada has signed the UNDRIP (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ).
Quoted from the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
“43. We call upon federal,provincial,territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”
“44. We call upon the government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
As a ‘social worker’ I want to emphasize the ‘calls to action’ concerning ‘child welfare’.
Quoted from the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes the following calls to action.
Legacy Child welfare
1/ We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care by:
- Monitoring and assessing neglect investigations.
- Providing adequate resources to enable Aboriginal communities and child-welfare organizations to keep Aboriginal families together where it is safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments, regardless of where they reside.
- Ensuring that social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations are properly educated and trained about the history and impacts of residential schools.
- Ensuring that social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations are properly educated and trained about the potential for Aboriginal communities and families to provide more appropriate solutions to family healing.
- Requiring that all child-welfare decision makers consider the impact of the residential school experience on children and their caregivers.
- / We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, to prepare and publish annual reports on the number of Aboriginal children (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) who are in care, compared with non-Aboriginal children, as well as the reasons for apprehension, the total spending on preventive and care services by child-welfare agencies, and the effectiveness of various interventions.
- / We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle.
- / We call upon the federal government to enact Aboriginal child-welfare legislation that establishes national standards for Aboriginal child apprehension and custody cases and includes principles that: i./ Affirm the right of Aboriginal governments to establish and maintain their own child-welfare agencies. ii./ Require all child-welfare agencies and courts to take the residential school legacy into account in their decision making. iii./ Establish, as an important priority, a requirement that placements of Aboriginal children into temporary and permanent care be culturally appropriate.
5/ We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families.
Other important calls to action are explained under the following headings of sections on: Education, Language and Culture, Health, Justice, Professional Development and Training for Public Servants, Education and Reconciliation, Apologies, Youth Programs, Museums and Archives, Missing Children and Burial Information, Media and Reconciliation, Commemoration, Sports and Reconciliation, Business and Reconciliation, Newcomers to Canada
Introduction: Please look at this photo of the fresco at the Cathedral in Mission. The Fresco Says It All!
Place photo here: if possible put the photo underneath the poem on both pages.
The Fresco Says It All!
In the Fresco of the mission by the Frasers rolling roar
A story is depicted that degrades the Eagle’s soar
From the mountain, and the forest, and the river, and the wild,
They came naked, not tamed, simple creatures to be styled
By the hands of Oblate fathers there before the Christian Cross.
Savages to be bathed and cleaned of myth and mirth and moss.
Led to become suppliants, humble to the authority of Rome
From the canopy of sacred cedars and their ancestral home.
They came but had no clothes, no nose, no eyes, no ears, no mouths,
no emotions. They were the faceless, did you know it? In ‘Black Robe’ eyes.
How Black Robes pictured them? Paper to write on! Creatures to tame!
To them Indians were barren pewter plates! Empty jugs! They were cyphers
in a ledger? They were souls in a cash register for depositing in Rome.
In OBLATE eyes they were chum salmon swimming home to die in God!
And in Rome each converted soul was numbered, to mark a soul as saved,
And soul-ciphers were tallied as blessings of a sacred bottom line, and from
Rome came letters of congratulations for beating performance expectations,
Black robes saved so many souls from the dying from the pox
In the death camps of the Fraser.
This poem was inspired by the interviews by Earl K. Pollon and S. S. Matheson conducted with native Sekanni peoples who were negatively affected by the flooding of their communal homelands by the building of the WAC Bennett Dam. “This Was Our Valley” tells that story of injustice. 640 square miles of riverfront and hunting territory would be flooded to form Williston Lake. The Sekanni peoples were driven from their ancestral homeland and dispersed. I speak in the composition as a fictional aboriginal elder. I hope that I will not offend anyone.
The Shopping Cart Injustice
People, place and spirit
All were our relations
Biopeds, quadrupeds, beings with wings and fins –
River language told us so.
Fishing rocks spoke the run
Where the riffles and the rapids talked.
Ancestors told living stories where
Running the river banks, the children played.
The land was a book written in forms.
We made our mark with love, community
Fishing weirs, aspen dugout canoes,
Hunting trails, camps and sacred sites.
Always traders, we traded furs with
White settlers when they arrived
On the rivers Parsnip, Finlay and Peace at
Finlay Forks, Fort Grahame, Fort McLeod.
We added pack trains, teams of pack horses
River freighters, flat bottom ‘longboats’
For supplies and for mail delivery.
It seemed we could live together.
Then one day a government agent said
That shopping carts were coming
They would flood our world
Water rising everywhere
Shopping carts fast to check out,
Shopping carts, electric this, electric that
Shopping carts, shopping carts.
Industrial consumerism and mining,
Check out, check out, check out.
They would make our rivers into a lake
We would move or drown.
Our elders did not believe it.
That was the consultations!
Soon Saskatoon berries all under water
Next, the banks sloughed back to graveyards
Next cliffs crumbled, and banks fell into rising lake
Houses of the villages slipped and floated
Coffins, bones and bodies strewed the shore
Where tangled trees, debris and more
Eddied with flotsam in the wind.
We wept for our ancestors!
We weep for our children.
We had to flee the destruction
Caused by tree grinders, D-9 bull dozers
The dam construction.
Now they want to take more
Another dam for more shopping carts.
Stop another dam, stop site ‘C’!
Respect the West Moberly and Prophet River
POST POEM NOTES:
Before the building of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam I canoed from McLeod Lake down to the Finlay River and then paddled to Finlay Forks where the Parsnip River ‘formerly joined’ with the Finlay to form the Peace River. I went with the river flow eastward to Hudson Hope, then on to Peace River City, Alberta. The beauty and ecological wealth of that water world was immense. Opposition to the Bennett Dam failed. My poem tries to reflect the immense cultural and ecological loss of huge portions of the Finlay and Parsnip river systems. I did not address the downstream habitat loss of wetlands far to the north.
‘The Shopping Cart Injustice’ was read in meetings of protest against site ‘C’ by ‘Poets For The Peace’ and in ‘Sierra Club’ meetings. I thought that we would succeed in stopping the site ‘C’ dam especially when Premier Horgan and the B.C. government made a commitment to embrace and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which calls for “free, prior and informed” consent of effected ‘First Nations’.
Article 32 states:
1/ Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
2/ States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
The government of B.C., accepted the ‘UN Declaration On The Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and then almost immediately violated it by approving the construction of the site ‘C’ dam without ‘prior consultation’. This is not a good way to begin ‘healing’. We have much more work to do. There were many arguments against site ‘c’, – the costs, the fact that the power was not needed now, that other renewable sources of power at similar costs could be built while protecting the Peace River valley for agriculture and ‘indigenous rights’. It is clear that we should not blame ‘First Nations’ for seeking legal remedies for an egregious act.
There is an ‘Indian ceremony of purification’ that the cabinet of the provincial government should do with good heart – the sweat lodge ceremony.
The Pit-house and The Sweat Lodge Ceremony
I went to teach school in Chehalis and carried ‘Arrowmaker’ my ‘inDspiration’
with me. There I learned about the ‘sweatlodge ceremony’ when I was
teaching for the Native Education College. I was an adult educator at that time
and was assisting a group of young adults to complete grade twelve
graduation. During our studies we discovered deep impressions of several
‘pit-houses’ along the banks of the Harrison River. After consulting with elders
the students asked me to cooperate with them in learning how to build
Throughout the ‘inland’ Pacific Northwest, indigenous people were nomadic
during the summer and gathered resources at different spots according to
the season and tradition, but over wintered in permanent semi subterranean
pit houses at lower elevations. The winter was often the only time families
saw others- even if they were from the same village and tribe.
The houses were located along on major rivers and tributaries and
were typically round and from 15 to 25 feet in diameter, and were covered
in layers of mats made from cedar branches and covered with soil. Grass
would grow on top of the pit-house. Because the building was dug down into
the ground by four feet or so the bad weather was kept out and the heat
kept in. There was a smoke hole in the center. A tall pole notched for steps
stands up through the hole at an angle. Entrance or exit from the pit-house
is often done via that pole. A pit-house is often built on a slope that is gravel
based so that water will not enter it. At the lower side another entrance
door is built for elders and children. The interior can be exceptionally
My students collected information about the pit-houses from elders. Elder
Nancy Philips was very helpful in that regard. Nancy was a highly regarded
elder who taught her native language ‘ Halkomelem’ to my class. She was
one of about 99 elders of the Salish who could still speak her traditional
Our research before construction included visits to the Museum of
Anthropology at UBC and the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Fortunately,
early European migrants had made sketches of pit-houses and notes on
construction. This knowledge together with the knowledge of the elders gave
us enough ‘know how’. We studied the building of cedar braided ropes but
eventually decided to buy hemp rope for the tying of the logs. The other
compromise we made was that we borrowed a back hoe for making the
excavation and used chain saws to fell the trees.
Here are a few black and white photos of the pit-house project.
(Two pages of photos)
The community elders of Chehalis decided that I needed to be purified along
with my students if we were to become engaged in the building of a modern
day ‘pit-house’. Their advice was to build a sweat lodge first, to follow the
procedures for three weeks of sweats, be brushed with the smoke of sage,
and touched by the sacred branches of the cedar branches, to hear the
heartbeat of the drums – and only then at a final ceremony led by the elders
could we begin the ‘work’. So that is what we did. We built a new
pit-house in Chehalis where many had stood before but all had disappeared
because of cultural disruptions, residential schools and small pox.
The Sweat Lodge Ceremony, now central to most Native American cultures
and spiritual life, is an adaptation of the sweat bath common to many ethnic
cultures found in North and South America, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe,
The Sweat Lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing,
a place to get answers and guidance by asking spiritual entities, totem helpers,
the Creator and Mother Earth for the needed wisdom and power.
A traditional Sweat Lodge is made up of slender branches of aspen or
willow, or other supple saplings, lashed together with raw hide, or grass or
root cordage, although in some areas the lodge was constructed of whatever
materials were at hand, from a mud roofed pit-house to a cedar bark and
plank lodge. The ends of the branches are set into the ground in a circle,
approximately 20 feet in diameter, although there is no set size for a Sweat
Lodge. That is determined by the location, materials available and the builder.
The branches are bent over and lashed to form a low domed framework.
The floor of the lodge may be clean swept dirt, or natural grassy turf, or may
be covered with a mat of soft cedar boughs, or sage leaves for
comfort and cleanliness, kept away from the central heat-pit.
The lodge in former times was covered with the hides of buffalo, bear or
moose. At present, the animal skins have been replaced with blankets, plastic
sheeting, old carpet, heavy gauge canvas sheets and tarps to retain the heat
and the steam.
In many traditions the entrance to the sweat lodge faces to the East and the
sacred fire pit. This has very significant spiritual value. Each new day for all
begins in the East with the rising of Father Sun, the source of life and power,
dawn of wisdom, while the fire heating the rocks is the undying light of the
world, eternity, and it is a new spiritual beginning day that we seek in the
Common to all traditions, and the sweat, is the ideal of spiritual cleanliness.
Many sweats start with the participants fasting for an entire day of
contemplation in preparation for the sweat while avoiding caffeine, alcohol and
other unhealthy substances. Prior to entering the ‘sweat’ the participants
usually smudge with sage, ‘sweetgrass’ or cedar smoke as a means toward
Bringing personal sacred items is allowed but some rules apply. Items such as
Eagle feathers, whistles and medicine pouches are allowed and welcomed. You
should not bring anything that is not natural into the Sweat Lodge, such as:
watches, ear rings, gold, silver, eye glasses, false teeth, etc.
In many cultures a female on her moon is not allowed into the sweat, but in
some they are. A Sweat Ceremony in many traditions usually starts with the
loading and offering of the sacred “peace pipe” in prayer, that the
participants may know and speak the truth in their supplications of
Grandfather, Earth Mother and the spirits.
In other traditions, when a person is called upon to go into the sweat lodge
one must have some tobacco to offer to the sacred fire, saying a prayer or
asking a question, the smoke from the tobacco carrying your request to the
Great Spirit. As you prepare to enter the lodge the sweat leader smudges you
with the smoke of burning sage, cedar, or sweet-grass, wafting the smoke
over you with an eagle feather. You then crawl into the lodge in a sun-wise
(clockwise) direction, bowing in humility to Great Spirit and in close contact
with Earth Mother, and take your place in the circle, sitting cross-legged
upright against the wall of the lodge. When all are inside the sweat leader calls
upon the doorkeeper to drop the flap covering the lodge opening. The lodge
becomes dark, and at this point the lodge leader announces that all are free
to leave the lodge at any time if they cannot endure the darkness and heat of
steam. The other participants will move away from the wall so that one
may pass behind them. He then asks for a short, contemplative silence. After
the brief silence the flap is raised, and the leader calls upon the fire tender to
bring in the heated stones from the sacred fire.
The Stone People spirits are awakened in the stones by heating them in the
sacred fire until red-hot. They are swept clean with a pine or cedar bough to
remove smoking embers which would cause irritating discomfort in the lodge.
One at a time they are placed in the shallow pit inside the sweat lodge, placing
first the stone on the west, then north, east, south, and in the center to
Grandfather. Additional stones are then placed to Grandmother and The
People. After four to seven stones are in the pit, depending on tradition (and
probably the size of the stones), the entrance is closed and sealed by the
Sweat Lodge Keeper, who generally is also the fire tender.
Aglow with the luminance of the red hot stones, the ceremony begins in the
lodge. The sweat leader sounds the Water Drum and calls forth the spirit
guides in prayer from the Four Directions. The sweat leader then dips water
and pours it onto the hot stones in the pit, producing large amounts of steam,
usually one dipper for each of the four directions, or until he is told by the
spirits to stop. Then he begins his prayers, songs and chants.
During the purification of one’s spirit inside a sweat lodge, all sense of race,
color and religion is set aside. As in the Mother’s womb and the Father’s eyes,
all are the same, all are One. Each of one has the ability to sit with the
Creator himself. Healing begins here for dis-ease, physical, emotional,
directional and spiritual.
As the steam and temperature rises so do the senses. Messages and vision
from the Spirit World are received through the group consciousness of the
participants. One at a time, as a talking stick is passed, all the people inside
get an opportunity to speak, to pray and to ask for guidance and forgiveness
from the Creator, and the people they have hurt. As they go around the circle,
they tell who they are, where they are from, and what is their clan, so the
Creator, the Spirit People, and all there can acknowledge them.
A sweat is typically four sessions, called rounds or endurances, each lasting
about 30 to 45 minutes. The round ends when the leader announces the
opening of the door.
Each round begins with the sacred and ceremonial placing of red hot volcanic
pumice rocks from the fire outside to the pit inside. These are called
‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’ rocks. Water from a pale is ladled onto the
rocks, and as the darkness descends and the steam arises a session begins.
The first round is for recognition of the spirit world which resides in the
West where the sun goes down.
The second round is for recognition of courage, endurance, strength,
cleanliness, and honesty, calling upon the power of the North.
The third round recognizes knowledge and individual prayer in the direction of
the daybreak star, and the rising sun. Wisdom can be gained wisdom from the
East. The fourth round honours the South for spiritual growth and healing.
In each round appropriate prayers are offered by the leader.
At the completion of each round, the participants may emerge, if desired, to
plunge into an adjacent pool or stream if one is available, or roll in the snow
if the sweat is held in winter. In arid areas the participants roll in the sand to
cool off and remove the sweat. Many participants maintain their places in the
lodge until completion of the fourth round, while the cooled stones in the pit
are removed and replaced with hot stones.
There are many different forms of sweat ceremonies. Each
people has their own tradition and this is especially clear when it comes to
the sweat lodge ceremony. Many differences, depending on the people
participating, occur during each ritual. For instance, many times rounds are
held in complete silence and meditation as the participants feel the need. At
other less intense times, a round may be devoted to story-telling and
recounting of the clan’s creation stories. This is all part of spiritual and
emotional healing and growth. Respect, sincerity, humility, the ability to listen
and slow down are all key in the way one approaches ceremony.
It is a ritual that it occurs whenever it is needed. Sweat lodge essentially
translates into returning to the womb and the innocence of childhood. The
lodge is dark, moist, hot and safe. The darkness relates to human ignorance
before the spiritual world and so much of the physical world.
Traditionally it was only the men who would sweat but in modern times women
participate. Men can sweat separately and women can sweat
separately, or there can be mixed sweats where men and women both
The Burning Ceremony
This composition was written in honour of my brother. When living in the Fraser Valley in the ‘Stolo’ Salish village of Chehalis I was invited to a ceremonial remembrance of an elder after her passing to the ‘other side’. The ceremony was held one year after her death. The whole community participated. Each brought gifts of food or favorite objects of the deceased. A table was set over a fire. Beneath the table was a wood fire pit with dry shavings and kindling ready to be ignited. When all was ready the foods and objects were burned as the table caught fire from the ‘burning’ and the smoke pushed skyward with cedar bows to join the loved one. Then all of the people ate, from a community pot-luck dinner and sang to drumming. After my brother died I decided to give him a similar ‘burning ceremony’. Our relationship had been intense, complicated, profound and troubling. By means of this ceremony I was able to say goodbye. I am so happy and honoured that I had been invited to a ‘burning ceremony’. ‘Arrowmaker’ had hung once again on my wall when community members dropped in. Perhaps because of him, I had learned these profound aspects about my neighbours in Chehalis.
I’ll give you a Turtle Island Burning in the Grand Canyon of the Liard
There as McKenzie’s voyagers we almost drowned.
I’ll give you a Turtle Island Burning in Cole’s Bay
From where we sailed the Saanich Inlet to McKenzie Bight.
I’ll give you a Turtle Island Burning
In the wild, white waters of the Nahanni.
There as teachers we led The Brentwood College Canoe Brigade.
I’ll give you a Turtle Island Burning in the rippled waters of the
There as skipper and first mate we operated Sub-Arctic Navigation.
I’ll give you a Turtle Island Burning in home fields
There as The Lone Ranger and Tonto we drove our wagon to our
home on the range.
I’ll ask friends and family to the table.
I’ll place your paddles with your sash.
Set out our plates with steak and mushrooms
Arrange the knives and forks
Prepare the bannock and the butter
Lay your pens and journals on a cedar chest
‘The Dangerous River’, your cherished books.
Gather moss, dry twigs and wood.
When the table is set with food and treasures
Above a bed of forest branches; I’ll light the fire.
And when the flames send your we spoke.
That’s when the cedar chevrons smoke.
That’s when we eat and spoke together
We glowed as souls in thankful knowing
That our love is love transcending
Homophobia and addiction
That earthly time of deep oppression
That caused your addiction and depression
And our most tragic separation.
We lived a generation early
Before Pride Parades and legislation
You were thirteen and I was ten.
We didn’t know it then.
I see your soul cresting
I hear your voice calling, ‘Wally, are you there’?
From white water churning
Then we hug and laugh together
Reverse and bail our chestnut canoe
We beat old death together
We arise from swirling vortex Our bodies wet in clinging cortex
Our journey in timing just beginning
Into a cosmic field of ever knowing.
Written After Attending the Heritage BC Annual Conference entitled,
Heritage: Imagining Futures, May 4-6, 2017 / Victoria,BC
To archeologists of academia
To conservationists of heritage
To curators of museums
To all of us together who are
Engaged in ‘Reconcialiation’
And some in the sacred
Repatriation of ancestors
Of First Nations. Come with me.
Let’s go together, let’s
Leave our research libraries
Leave the vaults of our museums
Enter the forests of natural forms
See the seas in our storms
Smell the needs in our flower’s seeds
Let’s not store, but let’s restore
The People’s stories
From the water people
From the mountain people
From the desert people
From the forest people
From all relations of matter.
‘All’ matters in the unity of diversity
Differentiated but held by a common
Mystery, a bond that holds all together.
We will value indigenous culture.
We will respect the Original Ways.
We will mourn their mornings
Of death by pox pestilential
Of loss by school residential.
Let’s fly like eagles in sky
Winds under our wings, and cry.
Let’s soar in the clouds of song
Cut through the fogs of gone,
Land in the land of belong,
Touch, drink, see and pace
As dancers in the spirit of place
Living the air, fire, earth and waters
Loving the living islands and living daughters.
Let’s honour Peoples’ past with bonds that last
Become a part of all that is.
It is not ours, nor mine, nor his
Erase the moulded words that mold
Hear the stories that unfold?
With silence hear the spoken lyre
That smokes as spirit as if from fire.
‘RECONCILIATION’ between Canadians and Nature
Another type of ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ and ‘Healing’ that needs urgently
to be faced and acted upon is our human relationship with ‘nature’. In many
ways the two types of ‘reconciliation’ go together. Had we European settlers
adopted the dream of Canada held by ‘first nations’ when aboriginals
welcomed us to share and appreciate the new continent, Turtle Island,
many of our present crises in the environment might not exist. The
aboriginal ethic of co-existence with ‘all our relations’ and the
‘interdependence’ of the species might have prevented the exploitation and
destruction of the natural environment. The world view of ‘interdependence’
and our present world view of ‘nature as a resource to be exploited’ are
starkly different. Each leads to outcomes that can be predicted. We need to
see that now.
I have also had firsthand experience in nature having trip-canoed the rivers,
Peace, Finlay, Liard, Nahanni, parts of the Stikine, and McKenzie. Trip-
canoeing implies trips of a week to a month. Another source of my outdoor
love has come from sailing coastal British Columbia. Some of these
compositions reflect that experience, show my emotional connection to the
land, indicate my sense of interdependence, my yearning for a better
connection to First Peoples, and express a rejection of ‘consumerism’ and its
consequences. One of the most beautiful expressions of ‘interdependence’,
composed by The David Suzuki Foundation can be read as an appendix to
this volume, ‘The Declaration of Interdependence’.
On February 7th, 1942, Nellie McClung began her column in the Victoria Daily
Times with these words:
“A country at war needs poets and singers, great and small leaders, and
above all, ordinary people who have driving power and enthusiasm.”
Aboriginal peoples have been fighting a war against Colonialism for the past
150 years. They have poets and singers, and leaders great and small. I want
to join with fellow Canadians to help build a caring cohort for ‘reconciliation’
with a driving power and enthusiasm to reject colonialism and its
consequences by facing the ‘truth’ of history and by searching for and
practicing methods of ‘healing’.
The animals, plants, rivers and oceans, the land itself, air and water have
been under warlike attack for decades. Humans collectively have waged a
war against the environment because all was thought to be endless, and a
resource to be exploited. Colonial regimes exploited the aboriginal peoples
but also exploited the natural environments. Both ‘First Peoples’ and ‘The
Ecology’ are still being exploited today.
But people are beginning to face the truth, they are beginning to search for
best practices for reconciliation, and are beginning to take concrete steps
and actions to heal relationships with both ‘first peoples’ and ‘the ecology of
Nature as an Exploitable Resource or as an Interdependent World
Human life is linked to nature. We are part of the web of life. But for thousands
of years the population of humanity has increased in numbers, ever faster
exponentially. Humans more and more concentrated themselves in urban
centres. Each human footprint, the amount consumed for food and material
things also expanded exponentially until the carrying capacity of the natural
world became impaired – more was being used by people than the natural
world could provide; the renewables and non-renewables were being
depleted. That is the situation now.
There have been many ‘base lines’ of the natural world of ecology that have
seemed ‘normal’ but had shifted. Each newer ‘base line’ if observed with the
historical knowledge of previous ones would appear shockingly depleted and
miserable. But each new generation grows up and experiences its own ‘shifted
base line’ that appears normal. Children born in cities with polluted air will
have never known anything better. Youth raised in treeless deserts won’t
know that rain forests once stood there. Young boys and girls will not know
that fish were once bountiful in now depleted rivers.
Education is important so that each generation has a knowledge of past ‘base
lines’. Elders should be asked, ‘What was it like when you were young’? I am
old enough to answer to my grandson about what the Saanich Peninsula
looked like in the 1940s, all the farms and fields, the bigger forested parts,
the abundance of fish in the Saanich Inlet. That was because there were fewer
people and more wild places. But asking questions of the elders is not enough.
That goes back only one generation. We need to watch historical
documentaries about ‘base lines’ from two, three, four, five generations ago.
Perhaps documentaries are better educational tools now than books. Can we
imagine the great migrations of buffalo today? Can we imagine the massive
migrations of cariboo across the railroad tracks to Churchill, Manitoba, that
could stop a train for three hours while the animals crossed – as described by
Farley Mowat? These mental pictures come from ‘base lines’. Can we imagine
migrations? I recently spoke with some city teenagers who had no idea what
a ‘migration’ means in terms of wild life. They only recognized the word in
relation to ‘migrant refugees’ from Syria and Africa.
If the concept of ‘wildlife migrations’ is disappearing from common perception
it is difficult to convey information about the need of adequate healthy ‘habitat’
– the requirement for migratory and other wildlife. The need to educate about
past ‘base lines’ is paramount. If we do not educate about base lines,
‘collective threshold memory loss’ will lead progressively to ecological and
cultural collapse. What happened on Easter Island is an example of that.
When I see videos of caring people who as a group or as individuals go to save
stranded whales, while thankful for their kindness, I wish I could feel hope in
my heart for migratory creatures. But saving a few beached whales, a few
turtles from becoming road kill, a few elk that have fallen through melting ice
– none of that goodness equates to addressing the fundamental problems of
‘over population’, industrialization, global warming and over use of resources
that all start from a ‘world view’ that is wrong headed and arrogant. The
dominant world view pictures the ‘biosphere’ as a resource to be used while
humankind stands apart as the ruler. Fortunately, many people, and I bet you
do as well, see this as incorrect and arrogant. You and I and others want to
see ourselves as part of the web of life, to live in a manner that allows other
creatures of the wild world to flourish.
I am encouraged by the number and quality of societies which are attempting
to change the ‘world view’ to one of ‘interdependence of the species’. Of the
40,168 known species, The International Union for Conservation of Nature
estimates that extinction awaits one in four of mammalian species, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians and conifers, half of all reptiles and
insects, and 73 percent of flowering plants. The consensus is that humans are
the major cause of this most current extinction episode. This mass extinction
is occurring faster than any other.
The only way to save ourselves and our biosphere is to adopt the new world
view of ‘interdependence’ and act accordingly. That means education at all
levels quickly, from ordinary people like me, to leaders in business and politics.
The ethical scientists are already there. We need a sudden paradigm shift that
shakes the very foundation of the present economy. The growth of the
economy should no longer be driven by an advertising industry whose only
goal is to create false expectations and needs for unnecessary products that
have a planned obsolescence. The growth of the economy should be based on
the growth of renewables. Durability of products should be a sought value so
that there is less waste. Governments must start listening to voters as citizens
with rights rather than listening to ‘self-interested’ who want us all to remain
as materialistic consumers of more and more stuff. The so called ‘one percent’
needs to join the paradigm shift or be replaced. There is little time left for so
many diverse species, and ultimately for humankind itself.
I have included two graphics made by a Brazilian-Italian friend, Ursula
Grattapagalia, secretary of the Esperanto Rotary Club of Brasil, one shows the
world view that ‘Humans Rule the World’, and the other shows the world view
that ‘Humans are part of an Interdependent World’. Below the two graphics is
the Declaration of Interdependence published by The David Suzuki Society.
Man Rules The World Interdependece of All
Declaration of Interdependence
This we know
We are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us.
We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins.
We are the breath of the forests of the land, and the plants of the sea.
We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell.
We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes.
We share a common present, filled with uncertainty.
And we share a common future, as yet untold.
We humans are but one of thirty million species weaving the thin layer of life enveloping the world.
The stability of communities of living things depends upon this diversity.
Linked in that web, we are interconnected — using, cleansing, sharing and replenishing the fundamental elements of life.
Our home, planet Earth, is finite; all life shares its resources and the energy from the sun, and therefore has limits to growth.
For the first time, we have touched those limits.
When we compromise the air, the water, the soil and the variety of life, we steal from the endless future to serve the fleeting present.
This we believe
Humans have become so numerous and our tools so powerful that we have driven fellow creatures to extinction, dammed the great rivers, torn down ancient forests, poisoned the earth, rain and wind, and ripped holes in the sky.
Our science has brought pain as well as joy; our comfort is paid for by the suffering of millions.
We are learning from our mistakes, we are mourning our vanished kin, and we now build a new politics of hope.
We respect and uphold the absolute need for clean air, water and soil.
We see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of many are wrong.
And since environmental degradation erodes biological capital forever, full ecological and social cost must enter all equations of development.
We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.
So where knowledge is limited, we will remember all those who will walk after us, and err on the side of caution.
This we resolve
All this that we know and believe must now become the foundation of the way we live.
At this turning point in our relationship with Earth, we work for an evolution: from dominance to partnership; from fragmentation to connection; from insecurity, to interdependence.
13/ Nature is a vitamin.
I was raised as a child in the Ardmore part of North Saanich in the 1940s. Ardmore was mostly forested and where the trees had been cleared sheep grazed. Sidney was a tiny single street village where a bus left several times a day for Victoria. We had no television and computers had not been invented. For us there were no visual or virtual distractions like cell phones and cruising the internet. We enjoyed what we had. That was the beauty and bounty of nature around us.
Today too many people suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder. The term was coined in 2005 by author Richard Louv in his bestseller Last Child in the Woods. In 2018, more gadgets and virtual distractions isolate children and many adults from nature. Louv’s follow up book – Vitamin N:the Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life promotes vitamin ‘N’ as the cure for ‘NDD’ that does not come from a bottle, is free and very close by in our ‘places’. ‘Just you look and see’ the ‘white cliffs of Dover and our own the natural habitats in creeks, mountains, forests, rivers, islands and seas! Count, identify and enjoy the creatures and habitats that need protecting. In my youth, I got plenty of vitamin ‘N’ naturally.
At Coles Bay my brother and I built a shack with drift wood. We also constructed a raft that we called ‘salvager’. We rigged it with a pole and square sail so that we could follow the coast of the Saanich Inlet towards Brentwood Bay. We were always outdoors, at least whenever our parents allowed that, which was any time after school, if we were not needed for chores. Even the chores were outside. The family had cows, chickens, a crop of hay, and a golf course that played through the farm – the Ardmore Golf Course.
All of that prepared me for my life. I wanted to experience more of nature and I did that via hiking, skiing, fishing and boating by sail, riverboat and canoe.
After doing much of that with my brother I decided to share that love. My brother and I opened a company called ‘Sub-Arctic Navigation Ltd.’ We bought and built river boats and operated them on the rivers Ft Nelson, Liard, South Nahanni and McKenzie. We booked tourists for ‘wilderness’ fishing and photographic trips. Our commercial tour service was the first to operate on the Nahanni long before it became a national park.
Later we were hired by Brentwood College to lead a month long canoe trip from Ft Nelson to Ft Providence via the Ft Nelson, Liard and McKenzie with a side trip up and down the South Nahanni. We purchased two 25 ft Hudson Bay Chestnut Voyager Canoes for the purpose. Each canoe was powered by seven grade eleven boys and my brother and I as steersmen.
My experiences in outdoor life made me place pen to paper. I the following compositions my emotions about the importance and fragility of nature are expressed.
Think twice before scorning our Spineless
Slugs bugs spiders bees beetles jellyfish corals lobsters
They ruled the world, and
Keep soils productive.
Now one in five of the spineless face extinction
Because of the upright
Fashion manias gross domestic
Production Compulsion Comsumption dependency
Even frisky water striders
The Sea Is A Womb.
If the whales go
As did go, the Dodo
An eviction to extinction tale
If whales break the scale
In drift nets of the dead
From cruise ship city and flotsam tread
Of plastic, oil, sewage, diapers, toys;
If the whales go, where go we
Will our tomb
Be a watery grave
From the rising sea?
And will the sea again be
The restless resilient womb
From which we will arise again?
And will we crawl and then stand
Coming forth once more on land
And will we be so full of strife
So blind to the web of life?
First into Grace Harbour
Me in classic sailboat
At anchor alone
In Desolation Sound
Where silence reveals the place
And the world is bigger
Because I can hear its’ vastness
It’s Bioacoustic diversity
Seals surface, gulls dive, water ripples.
A breeze in a cedar whispers
The buzz of a bumblebee.
The distant whistle of an eagle trembles in air
And falling droplets of rain taste of spruce.
The very place sparkles in silent sound and my soul is still
No need to block out
The combat zone of flashing messages.
From CNN and Fox.
But stillness of silence
Is reflected in blue water
and framed by oyster encrusted rocks,
While green and orange algae talk
Tidal pools and purple sea stars walk
And I can hear the world as music.
War, bombs and shrapnel.
Roaring yachts arrive like Hummers or tanks from Kandahar
Stacked high with gadgets, guns hanged,
Travelling as a pack of waking house-mobiles
To conquer wilderness with bars, showers, propane barbecues
Gas generators, deep freezers, and boom-boxes
All sorts of folks; models in bikinis with pedigree dogs.
Fashion ladies in silk that launch revving zodiacs
To carry standard poodles for an urgent pee.
Then ‘A Tea Cup Yorkshire terrier’ yelps
At a Jack Russell that barks at a Chihuahua
As a Dachshund and Afghan Hound take offense
In frenzied jealousy.
Big hipped humans scream ashore in tenders.
Acoustic awareness numbed
The get-away-from-it-allers that bring it all always, partied.
As night fell they turned the generators off
“I haven’t seen any wildlife”, said one,
“There was more to feed at the zoo”
Said the other boomer
“Yea, where’s the loon.”
Fixed ideas of progress consume.
Then our mother moon
In full dress, exposed an array of limpets
Of many sizes and shapes that grab rocks
And hold tight to polished stones
Like consumers to The Game of Thrones
On Black Friday.
Marathon Of Hope For Habitat
You tuft-eared Lynx
Once wild and free in home habitat
You became a specimen of science
Captured near Kamloops Canada
Caged and sent to Colorado
To sire babies and enrich gene pools.
But once released they couldn’t keep you!
You yearned for home and family
Felt an urge to trek homeward-bound
You started a cross-border marathon
A travel odyssey of 2000 kilometres!
Leaping through sunsets and sunrises, clawing to alpine views
You snatched your padded paws from the paths of screeching
You were a marathon hero like Terry Fox
Whose Marathon of Hope raised money for cancer
Your Marathon of Hope for Habitat seeks to secure
A place to live safe from human desecration.
You both perished short of your dreams
Struck down by cell suburbs replicating to the loss of habitat and limb.
Slide Away Cities
About the urban geophysics of calving ice-fields
And glaciers sliding away
And London sliding away
Manhattan, Mumbai, Pacific islands any day
Sliding away seaward down.
Glaciers melt and mush
And sea levels warm and gush
Slide away Athens, Rangoon, Bangladesh
Until dykes and house-pilings fail
And to live is to swim or to flail
Amongst the ruins and garbage of drowning cities.
“I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind
on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed
anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston, where the Spray
had been moored snugly all winter. A thrilling pulse beat
high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt
there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an
adventure the meaning of which I thoroughly understood.”
I sat on the poop deck of ‘Joshua’ ,
a gaff-rigged replica of Slocam’s Spray
Built by Captain Bill Harpster
Reading these lines from Joshua Slocam’s
‘Circumnavigation of the Globe’.
Sunrise in the Salish Sea, on hook and reclining in a deck chair
I had nothing to do but look at the old tyme rigging
And codger up old salt sayings
Words evocative of the sailor’s sea
peak halliards and spanker booms
Flying-jig-martingales, bull-ropes, marlinspikes,
belaying pins and bollards.
Dreamily I word wander in poetic mariner jargon .
I picture the whale ship ‘Pequod’, commanded by Captain Ahab,
While below deck still in his berth slumbers salty Captain Bill
One-legged like Ahab whose Moby Dick was his Vietnam War.
Then my eyes spot a dot in the rigging repaired by Bill yesterday
A fuzzy speckled spider is at work
It makes ‘mock’ speed spins between shrouds and ratlines
Of the rope rung ladder to the masthead.
At first I don’t see the rigging threads
Spinning from its’ spherical gut
But they must be there in air
Because the spider is moving purposefully in space
Heading geometrically between way points
Joining all to a centre where crocheted filaments
become emergent gold in the rising sun.
Did he have to learn it? Become an apprentice?
Will he step back and ask , “Is that good enough?”
Next she suddenly jumps forward and catches hold of a filament.
Not finished yet the sailor engineer hauls in some slack and
Fixes silk threads firmly to the rigging.
Next she goes to the centre of her galactic star
Opens a gland bottle of tar
Applies a coagulating, viscid fluid from the centre out
And makes a glittering sticky thread from centre to head.
Now it waits for the next flying steak
While I await for a slumbering Bill to awake.
The Land Is A Loom
I sailed the fjords between Powell River and
Drury Inlet to beyond the Salish Sea.
The land itself spoke from mountains, waterfalls, islets
From bird song and bear splashing fishers
From rutting moose and cougars sharp incisors
The place has a scale that needs no advisers
But in our bodies felt, sensed in our story talking.
The Chinese spoke of sensing place by the four dignities
Of Standing of Reposing of Sitting or of Walking.
Indigenous peoples of the passage added of Paddling by degrees
For the Haida and Salish sang their paddles to taboos
To the rhythm of the drum in their clan crested canoes.
Trunks transformed indwelling people who swam like trees.
First Nations marked this land, made drawings above sacred screes
As they walked together, to gather, share and thank the spirit saplings.
So Dao-pilgrims in the blue sacred mountains of Japan rang their ramblings.
Now the loggers’ chainsaws were silent like men who had sinned.
I motored now for of wind not a trace –
I could see stories from the slopes, hear tales in the wind.
Modern hieroglyphs spoke from clear-cuts both convex and concave.
Slopes of burgundy and orange bark shaves
Atop the beige hills, and in the gullies the silver drying snags
and the brilliant pink of fire weed tags
A tapestry of times in work
A museum of lives that lurk.
Once the logging camps floated close to the head of inlets.
Now rusting red donkeys and cables no longer creak,
Nor do standing spar trees sway near feller notched trunks,
Nor do grappler yarders shriek as men bag booms and
Dump bundles in bull pens.
The names bespeak the work.
Bull buckers, rigging slingers, cat skinners, boom men and whistle punks.
Ashore to pee with my dog I saw a ball of crushed bones in scat
Later we heard the evocative howl of a wolf
And my pooch and I go along with the song
Conjoining with the animal call
In a natural world fearsome, sacred and shared.
Old bunk houses have tumbled, crumbling fish canneries no longer reek.
Draft dodgers and Canucks that followed the loggers forever borrowed –
Their hoisting winches, engines, cutlery, fuel, grease and generators.
While white shells rattled down the ebbing sea.
Listing float homes still grumble when hauled on hard.
Somber silhouettes of teetering totems no longer whisper in westerlies
Near undulating kelp beds of Mamalilakula.
Petroglyphs talk in pictures veiled by vines.
History is a tapestry
And land is the loom.
Every rock, headland, and blissful fearsome bay
Has a silence that speaks when I hear it.
Has a roar of death from peaking storms when I see it.
Beings and things can be heard and seen that
Enter and pass through me to evaporate like mist
From a rain dropped forest fist
And are composted into soil.
Where mountains heavily wade into the sea
To resemble yes the tremble and dissemble
Of the continental shelf.
Where still waters of deception
Hide the tsunamis surging stealth.
Inside the veins of Mother Earth the magmas flow
Beneath fjords where crystalized glaziers glow.
Here sailed I, my dog and catboat
Of ‘Bill Garden’ build, The H. Daniel Hayes
In a golden glory of my remaining days.
In Cascadia the images sang and thrilled
Mamalilikula, Kwak’wala, Namu, Klemtu
The Inlets Jervis, Toba, Bute, and Loughborough.
Vulgar images were far from my recall
Of ugly human stories of Nagasaki, and Bophal.
We’re waves that thaw, melt and freeze
Impermanence of breeze
We’re castles of sand – leveled by bully’s hand
We’re spider webs and beaver dams all
Mists and illusions ephemeral
We’re mountains disappearing
We’re rivers just appearing –
Carrying cliffs to emerald sea
Forming deltas of eddying debris
We’re a smile of effervescence
A vivacity of sense
We’re the sparkling wines that fizz
We’re the physiognomy of phiz
We’re a never lasting permanence
We’re dewing drops of excellence
We’re flying feathers of the wren
We’re lotus gardens of the Zen.
Seen, and unseen, white out, stars out
Snow slices air.
Seal Mukluks shuffling, toes in seal hair
Electrons knife into ice, tangentially chill
From aurora’s greenish lights dancing a whistle’s will.
Clothed inside out, and outside in by caribou hollow hair
Feels belly sweat trickle, get sucked in by air
From steady dog team gait
Across the tectonic tundra plate
Of Mother’s hot molten gut.
Shafting silver frost, stalagmites up
His eyes stare through slits of bone
Crossing frigid fault lines of stone.
He listens to language of snow and of gale
Senses ancestral tongue speaking from drifting trail.
The snow squeaks of density, depth and of place.
Homeward bound in the swirling might
As frozen asteroids In cosmic flight
Crater his pupil in lunar impact
Nothing but blue pained light
Seen before the end of sight
In a day of night.
Language and Culture
Wade Davis coined the phrase ‘ethnosphere’ to describe the sum total of all ideas and intuitions, myths and memories, and imaginations of the human experience since the dawn of consciousness. He says that the ‘ethnosphere’ is a legacy of all humanity, all that has been achieved by a wildly inventive and creative species. He writes that just as the biosphere is being threatened by human abuse, the ‘ethnosphere’ is being negatively impacted but at a faster rate. In a salient phrase he says,’ that less than fifty percent of aboriginal languages are now being whispered into the ears of infants’. He writes ‘language is a vehicle for the soul of each culture. It is an old growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought.’ This collective human resource for the future reference as a species is threatened.
Aboriginal languages are disappearing. That was the intention behind acculturation. Kill the aboriginal languages by ‘residential school’ training and assimilate the children by making English the only language for use. Children who were heard to speak their native mother tongue were beaten and humiliated. They were place in a corner of the classroom with their mouths spread open by large stones. Did you know that?
One can also say that a ‘mother tongue’ is ‘the skin of a peoples’ culture’. A human being will die after the loss of less than fifty percent of skin in a tragic house fire. Lose too much of your language and your culture will start to perish. What has happened to ‘aboriginal culture’ is analogous to a house fire. But the settlers were the ones who lit the fire. We need to extinguish that fire. The revival of aboriginal languages by education via aboriginal curriculum in aboriginal school authorities is another ‘call to action’ from the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’. Governments ought to right this wrong by educational investments.
When I was hired by Arctic College in the NWT I worked in Chesterfield Inlet as a mentor for an Inuit student who was learning to assume leadership of a recreational facility. I was highly impressed by the fact that students in the Victor Sammurtok School studied all subjects via their mother tongue, Inuktitut, through grade four.
Language domination has been used as a tool of colonialism and empire. The Language of the Speaker’s Staff graphic was created for the Esperanto movement that reflects the ideas of many nationalities that fear the domination by English or any one national language is a dangerous development.
Esperanto is a non-national language. One can say it is the global language. The intention and goal is that every mother tongue flourish and that Esperanto be used for international communications.
Details of the Back Cover Graphic
‘THE LANGUAGE OF THE SPEAKER’S STAFF’
The graphic, ‘Komunikado’
The artist, Jim Gilbert who was born in 1932 and passed on in the year 2000
was a friend of mine. He had a lifetime of exposure to, and experience with,
Pacific Northwest Coast aboriginal art. While not aboriginal himself he learned
from Indian elders and then created a curriculum for teaching the art forms
within the school system.
The back cover graphic was commissioned to produce a graphic depicting
“verbal communication between peoples” for the 1984 Universal Conference
of Esperanto speakers in Vancouver, B C.
The graphic depicts a vertical unit extending through the centre of mother
earth. The base sits between sea and forest on the beaches where The People
lived. This is a ‘Speaker’s Staff’ or ‘Talking Stick’ which was used ceremonially
by speakers in turn. In each of the cardinal global directions are distinctive
humanoid portrait masks.
In the south-east quadrant is a Nootka portrait mask. South-west is the a
Kwakiutl type mask, while the north-west quadrant is a Tlingit style depicting
a male with a moustache and painted feather units. North-east is a Haida
natural style mask of a woman with long hair, a labret in her lower lip and
exhibiting facial painting.
The topic of communication was chosen by the Esperanto speakers
because the survival of many of Canada’s aboriginal languages is threatened.
Colonial rule forbade the speaking and teaching of them.
The mission statement of the Esperanto Movement could be stated in this
way: “Because every language is a distinctive window on the world which can
enhance our wisdom and knowledge, each ought to be shown respect and to
be given equal opportunity.”
As a Non-Governmental Organization under the umbrella of the United Nations
The Esperanto Movement works to bring to reality the linguistic rights
promised in ‘The Declaration of Human Rights’.
Esperanto is a politically neutral language which is spoken and supported by
volunteers internationally. Its’ vocabulary was borrowed from existing natural
languages and then modified with wee word building morphemes such that
self-expression becomes an intuitive art. Folks use it as a bridge language like
a hand shake between equals.
The graphic could also represent a meeting of the General Assembly of the
United Nations where up to six so called ‘working languages’ are used while
all the others are politely shelved as ‘official languages’. Recognized by
UNESCO for a significant contribution to inter-cultural understanding,
Esperanto is the most equitable choice as the common diplomatic language of
the U.N. The ‘Talking Stick’ in the graphic would then symbolize Esperanto
itself, a threat to none, The Language of The Speakers’ Staff for all.
“Speakers’ Staff” in Northwest Coast Indian cultural style is a graphic
produced within and based upon a strict set of rules which order design, form,
colour and organization. This art style was developed by native artists many
thousands of years before contact with the outside world.
Contemporary Northwest Coast Artists working in this style today still produce
fine art in the form of two dimensional graphics, and three dimensional
sculptured works in wood, precious metals and ivory and stone. Northwest
Coast Indian art is today recognized worldwide as producing some of the finest
art work ever developed and executed by an aboriginal people. This art form
is both a crest-totemic art and also a vehicle for expressing the supernatural
world in a visible form.
The artist, Jim Gilbert of Vancouver Island on British Columbia’s coast was
commissioned to produce a graphic for the 69th Universal Congress of
Esperanto held in Vancouver in 1984.
The main theme of this graphic ‘Speaker’s Staff’ is verbal communication
within the context of Northwest Coast Indian culture.
The vertical unit extending through the centre of and extending above and
below the main circle unit is a ‘Speaker’s Staff’ or ‘Talking Stick’. This is a
wooden, carved and often painted staff which attains length up to two meters
and was used by most of the seven cultural groups of ‘first nations’ that occupy
the Northwest Coast of North America. Used by chiefs, people of high rank or
appointed speakers, the staff was held in front of the orator and used in
ceremonies where it was recognized as the ‘badge of the speaker’ when
addressing a gathering.
Oratorical emphasis, attention or keeping time when singing was obtained by
pounding the staff’s base on the floor. The figure or carvings on the speaker’s
staff generally were family crests of the owner of the staff or depict crest
animals or family origin myths.
This three figured staff has its base placed midway between and at the
junction of two horizontal design units, abstractly representing the forested
land on the left and the ocean waves on the right. At this confluence is the
beach area where the native peoples lived and built their huge cedar houses
This rich beach area with all its abundant marine life provided and formed the
foundation for the building and development of the great aboringinal society
and culture of the Northwest Coast Indian.
At the top of the staff ( depicted here in a condensed form of a Kwakiutl staff
of three figures, Thunderbird, Whale and Copper ) is the Thunderbird.
Thunderbird was a huge mythological bird forming part of the myht and legend
structure of all coastal peoples. Here it has plume-like ears, a large curved
beak and outstretched wings. This mythological bird made thunder by flapping
its wings. It fed on whales which it captured from the ocean by using its beak
and sharp strong claws. Thunderbird is perched upon the folded over and
down curved tail of the whale.
The whale’s tail is depicted here as an inverted stylized face.
The central hand is a view of the back of the speaker’s left hand as he holds
the staff with palm and fingers grasping the whale’s back.
To the right of the hand is the speaker’s forearm while on the left is a front
view of the speaker’s mouth with open lips while speaking. Below the hand is
the top view of the whale’s head with central blow hole. Eyebrows, eye, mouth
and nostril are found on either side of the head. The two pectoral fins of the
whale extend laterally and flow out from the rear of the head to join the
speaker’s lips on the left and the speaker’s arm on the right.
Directly in front of and below the whale’s nose is a copper. A real copper was
made of sheet copper and was a ceremonial hand held shield-like unit which
always had the unmistakable meaning of great wealth and high social status.
The uncarved tapered plain area at the bottom is the base of the staff.
The speaker’s staff stands central in a double walled circle. The outer thinner
circle unit is broken into four parts. (Four was a number often used and
repeated in Native Coast Art and Culture). In this graphic it represents the
outer boundary of the supernatural world as envisioned through the eyes of
the Native Indian.
The inner heavy walled non-concentric circle represents the known real world
and the people contained and joined to it, represented in the form of four
profiled faces in the form of four distinctively humanoid portrait masks. All
masks face the central talking staff with lips parted and mouths open. All
Each coastal group of peoples had its own distinctive humanoid mask with its
own distinctive sculptural style and painted units. In the bottom left quadrant
is the typical southern West Coast or Nootka portrait mask. Bottom right is
the Kwakiutl (Central Coast) type mask, while in the top right quadrant is
the Tlingit (Alaskan Coast) style portrait mask depicting a male with a
moustache and painted feather units. Top left is a Haida or Tsimshian mask
of a woman with long hair, a labret in her lower lip
and exhibiting facial painting.
Notes and bibliography