Tuesday, July 24, 2007

kumtux blog: Negotiating the Terms of Surrender

Some thoughts and feelings on the current state of "treaty" negotiations in British Columbia: http://kumtux.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 19, 2007

a (brief) vision for Nuu-chah-nulth community resurgence

I submitted the following for a scholarship application responding to the question, "What is your vision for your First Nation community?"

I was honoured to give the keynote speech at this year’s Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Post-Secondary Grad/Scholarship Celebration Dinner. Among the words of advice I shared with my fellow students was that our emerging leaders must challenge themselves to dream, to be idealistic, to be visionary, and to act deliberately. I related the common dichotomy of “theory” and “real life.” In school we are often encouraged to dream and think critically; to take the time to carefully contemplate our decisions with all the information we can access, and make the best determinations possible. Upon graduation this experience changes profoundly. More often than not, we are assaulted with the ubiquitous confines of “reality” and are told, “That is just the way it is.” Obviously this can be very disconcerting and one cannot help but wonder why. There are those who believe that we must be pragmatic and do the best we can with what we have. Indeed these are sound assertions, but I believe they must coexist within a larger vision of indigenous resurgence that includes a broad spectrum of thought and action. It is not without a sense of irony that young people learn of the great sacrifices and efforts of historical leaders, women and men who were visionary and often uncompromising, and yet at the same time our people are subtly yet strongly encouraged to merely get by. We endure immense pressure to tow the line, to plug in, to go along, to get along, and certainly not to rock the boat. I humbly disagree. Now is precisely the time for visionary leadership. Our people need hope, and yes they certainty need the ability to provide for their basic human needs, but I do not believe these to be mutually exclusive. My vision for our indigenous communities is rooted in a resurgence of our own indigenous principles, thoughtful action with a focus on adaptation not assimilation, and leadership that inspires hope for our collective future.

Before I get too far, I will properly introduce myself so that you may better understand who I am, where I come from, and why I say and do the things that I do. My Nuu-chah-nulth name is Na’cha’uaht. It means, “Everyone is watching you.” It was given to me by A-in-chut, from the house of Tlaa-kish-pitl. A-in-chut is my first cousin and one of the three principal hereditary chiefs of the Ahousaht people. His father Umeek is the older brother of my father, Wickaninnish. My mother was born Edna Bolton. Her mother and father were Charlotte and Ed Bolton, from Kitselas and Kitsumkalum respectively of the Tsimshian people. We are of the house of Nishaywaaxs of Kitselas. Who we are and where we come from are of vital importance to the revitalization of our communities. As I’ve alluded to already, there is a subtle yet persistent pressure to be something we are not. Despite the fact that Canada has assumed jurisdiction over our lands, waters, and in fact, our very lives, we have not yet officially surrendered. There exists within each of us, a fighting spirit yet. I believe that we are living in a very important time, one simultaneously filled with opportunity and danger. By reviving our time-tested teachings we keep the hope alive that we will not only preserve our unique indigenous ways of living, but create a space where our people can once again flourish, and perhaps positively impact the newcomers to our lands.

Perhaps two of the most important Nuu-chah-nulth principles are embodied in the terms, iisaak and Hishuuk-ish Tsa’waak. The first means “respect,” indicating a rather universal respect for all things, places, people, and beings. The second phrase is usually translated into, “everything is one.” Umeek states in his book, Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview, that creation is complete and that everything is indeed whole and interconnected. While these principles might seem very simple, they are of profound importance to understanding a Nuu-chah-nulth worldview and way of being in creation. There is little doubt that we have adapted over the generations, and must continue to adapt our practices to deal with current challenges. I argue that while adaptation of our practices is necessary and even desirable at times, we must not significantly alter our underlying philosophical principles. To do so would risk losing who we are, fundamentally as a people. Herein lies a tool that can be utilized when contemplating an indigenous life in a predominantly settler society. This approach is not so much prescriptive as much as it provides a guiding reference on how we conduct ourselves as individuals, families and communities. The way of our ancestors was the way of action. After careful contemplation and preparation, our actions were deliberate. The Nuu-chah-nulth term for warrior is wii’uk (wit’waak being the plural). To be wii’uk was to be prepared and to act without fear. Of course it is easy to point to happier times and find what seem like superhuman examples beyond our grasp, but to truly understand our ways is to appreciate the principle of interconnection and practice of preparation.

Among many things, the Atleo family was also a whaling family. My great-great grandfather, Kiista was one of the last Nuu-chah-nulth chiefs to land a whale. To undertake such a large endeavour required great preparation not just physically, but mentally, and spiritually as well. I am only able to provide a simplified rendering here, but the lesson is that great things can be accomplished with the proper preparation and understanding of the interconnection of all life. At first glance, these philosophical underpinnings might also seem esoteric, but I believe they are vital to true and lasting community resurgence. The name Atleo is an anglicized version of a Nuu-chah-nulth word, identifying the main rope used by the whalers. A Nuu-chah-nulth historian recently shared this insight and pointed to the importance of fully understanding the meaning. A single strand of the rope is fine and easily broken. Dozens and dozens of strands, woven together makes the rope strong; strong enough to land a great whale weighing many tons, and strong enough to provide for the community. In practical terms, we must work to shed the influences of Euro-Canadian individualism and materialism, work together as families and communities, utilizing our traditional principles and languages to adapt practices suitable for current realities. Greater than we are sometimes led to believe, our praxis must embody the best of who we are as indigenous people, and in today’s day and age, one might consider that downright revolutionary.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

new kumtux blog

Friends, Tsimshians, Countrywomen,

I've updated my Kumtux blog with an article I wrote for the '07 Summer issue of the New Socialist magazine.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

indigenous book review: Trinity by Leon Uris

It's not indigenous to these parts, but I'm an indigenous dude and the book, about Northern Ireland from about 1850 to the beginning of the Easter Rising in 1916, has some relevance to struggles for freedom the world over. Uris has written a brilliant work of historical fiction that had me laughing, crying, indignant, heartbroken yet hopeful, and using more adjectives than I ever thought I would.

Trinity follows the lives of several Irish families, most notably the lives of Conor Larkin and Seamus O'Neill, a couple of poor Catholic "croppies" from a small town in the province of Ulster. Other people are better at summarizing themes and plots so I will focus on what most resonated with me and the similarities with indigenous struggles for freedom here in the Americas.

The most obvious similarity is the colonial experience at the hands of the English, for the Irish beginning over 800 years ago. And there (at least in Ulster) as here, the English never really left, so both peoples experience an ongoing occupation. Uris also takes us into the corporate offices and dining halls of the English nobility and their loyalist collaborators. Interestingly, his rendition juxtaposes their humanity with the utterly dehumanizing way in which the Irish are regarded and treated. This has long been a complex theme in oppressive/abusive relationships and a challenge for would-be liberators, that is for them not to lose their humanity in trying to save it.

My good friend, "Chii-a-is" guffawed at my recent captivation with the Irish, stating that it was the Scottish that actually defeated the British. I'm not here to get into that debate, but I have to concur that along with my love of opera, tragic women, and the writings of people like Galeano and Zinn, all of these stories resonate with an aspirant indigenous rebel dreaming of the impossible. 800 years of struggle. 500 years of struggle. A lifetime of struggle.

Uris also touches on the seemingly endless frustrations that come with any desire to organize people to fight for freedom and justice. There are the ubiquitous "people", whose miseries get appropriated by everyone, the vanguard-like liberators, the militants, the intellectuals, the artists, and the collaborators. One can draw many parallels. I like how the fictional character Long Dan Sweeney puts it, "I hope you're not in a hurry...the true revolutionary is patient...and remember what I said about informants."

The book is over 700 pages long and is rich and complex and hard to put down, but I wish to touch on one more element. Conor (our hero) is confronted several times with love; being a revolutionary and falling in love. "Che" Guevara alluded to romanticism and love several times, but it's a tough go all around. At times it seems one cannot be truly committed to the cause (meaning different things for different people) and sustain a loving relationship at the same time and yet, one cannot imagine anything else worth fighting for. Ah, I do love paradox as well. In the story, there is a moment that Conor is perfectly willing to give it all up for the love of a young Protestant woman...I won't spoil it for you. I've found several copies in used bookstores. Go forth, young rebels and be inspired.

From the western shores of Occupied Canada

P.S. I was also inspired to look up some cool Irish Rebel Music tunes by groups like the Wolfe Tones and Eire Og. Good fun!