Idle No More Williams Lake, B.C.
January 11, 2013
by Arthur Topham
The weather was bitter cold, the skies bright blue and the drum skins tight as aged birch as the local Idle No More movement gathered at noon in the centrally located Save On parking lot to begin their walk of solidarity through the streets of Williams Lake eventually wending their way toward the government offices where the native chiefs were to deliver their message to PM Harper and to Canada.
It was a mobile place of power and hope that began and ended with the drum beat – the eternally vibrant symbol of the heart of the indigenous people and the land upon which they all depend for their livelihood and their collective identity as a nation. One would be hard pressed to imagine the whole event actually taking place without the accompanying voices of the singers whose chanting and powerfully stirring cries blended as one with the sounds of the drum.
The large crowd – upwards of 150 women, children and men – was a colourful admixture of native and non-native people with the vast majority being representatives of the many diverse nations that exist throughout the region known as the central interior of the province of British Columbia; a vast and beautiful and bountiful territory stretching from the western Pacific shoreline of the Nuxalk Nation to the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They had all come to gather and to speak as one voice in defence of the land and the water and the air and the myriad of living creatures and inanimate resources that this area of Mother Earth holds and offers to her children – a land now under dire threat of being completely stolen, desecrated and destroyed and sacrificed to Mammon upon the alter of foreign multi-national corporate interests who now control the actions of the federal government of PM Stephen Harper.
The local RCMP were on hand to offer traffic control and oversee the event and all went well in their efforts without any known incidents occurring along the way to the Ministry of Forests offices on Borland Street.
Outside the government offices the crowd again resumed the traditional circle of power and the sounds of the drums and the voices of the people pierced the freezing cold air like waves of arrows carrying their poignant, yet peaceful message of heartfelt concern for the plight of their (and all) people and the outrages being perpetrated against the land and all its life-giving abundance.
After a number of songs and words of encouragement the Chiefs of the various bands throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin-Shuswap areas entered the building and went up to the third floor to speak their message to those within. The rest of the people remained outside and continued to sing and drum and offer moral support for their leaders as they once again attempted to break through the historic barriers of ignorance and deception that have for centuries prevented any true dialogue and understanding from occurring between the First Nations of Canada and federal government in Ottawa, Ontario.
There were no incidents as the Chiefs entered the outer offices of the Ministry of Forests and those within came out to stand and listen in a courteous and respectful manner as each of the Chiefs spoke forcefully and deeply from their heart about their people, their land and their unqualified, grave and sober concerns about what the federal Conservative government is planning through its Omnibus bill – measures that will undoubtedly seriously affect their lives and their ability to survive as a people.
They spoke about the years and years of seemingly endless “negotiations” that go on and on like the seasons between their nations and the government representatives while at the same time the large corporate interests continue to extract the forests and minerals from their sacred lands in a business as usual fashion.
They spoke about their people and how far too many of them are starving for lack of the basic essentials that they once were able to harvest directly from their land – the salmon which are not returning in the numbers that once were normal; the richness and diversity of the fruits of the land (the berries and medicines) that were once always there, literally for the picking, to be later stored and used throughout the long winters to sustain their people’s health and well being: the timber that once stood tall and robust and gave the people the natural resources with which to build their log homes and heat their hearths and cook their food; the water which is being severely impacted by the gross and never ending expansion of clear cut logging that turns once living eco-systems into barren wastelands which in turn take generations, if not centuries, to renew to their original condition.
Some Chiefs spoke about the growing epidemic of diseases like cancer which are affecting their young people due to the increased reliance upon all the adulterated chemical foodstuffs that more and more native people are forced to depend upon as their land is encroached upon and their youth are forced to eat what is becoming the only viable alternative to the once abundant store of natural food that the land provided.
They spoke of the deer and the moose and how they, like the people themselves, are being poisoned with the chemical spraying of herbicides and pesticides that the government uses on the land in order to manage its corporate tree farms that have replaced the natural generation and growth of the once diversified living forests of old.
The did their utmost to inform the government representatives of the multitude of challenges that their people still face as a result of the pain and emotional and spiritual suffering that the government and church sponsored Residential School programs wreaked upon their people over generations and how when mainstream society looks at those natives who are wondering about the streets still looking lost and forlorn they cannot fathom the reasons why and tend to judge them as merely being lazy and unwilling to find a job and live a normal existence.
They spoke again and again about how the Idle No More movement was not just a movement for the indigenous peoples of Canada but one for all who will be negatively impacted by the actions of the Harper Conservative government. When it comes to the agenda that the federal government is attempting to implement in this country and the effect it will have upon the nation as a whole the majority of Canadians will end up in the same boat as the First Nations; one quickly heading into steep and treacherous canyon walls filled with jagged rocks and raging white water. There will be no discrimination happening when it comes to enforcing this new world order agenda on the people and in that sense we are all natives when it comes to dealing with Harper and the interests of foreign corporations along with the alien, private banking cartels that ultimately control the Conservative agenda which includes enslaving the people and selling off the land. Those that resist will automatically become “terrorists” and subject to police and possibly military harassment and imprisonment.
Throughout their vigorous and dynamic efforts to convey to the government representatives their concerns one could sense a strongly unified yet respectful manner in all of their words and behaviour. There were no officious and callous or racist remarks given; no threats and ultimatums; no imperious overt show of force or belligerence. Instead the government representatives were continually asked to try and stretch their own minds and attempt to understand where the Chiefs were coming from and to listen deeply with both their ears and to try and see with both their eyes that the Idle No More movement is something that will affect even them and their children and their future generations and therefore they also needed to do their best to convince their superiors that these draconian laws that Harper was attempting to implement must be challenged and stopped if we are all to get along and protect the Earth Mother for our common benefit and survival.
After the Chiefs and those in attendance with them had spoken their minds they thanked the government representatives for their patience and respect in listening to their concerns and invited them to come down to the parking lot and speak to the crowd who were waiting for the Chiefs’ return. They then shook their hands and filed out of the room and returned to the group waiting below to continue drumming and singer and speaking.
Those who had stood patiently listening to the Chiefs went back into their offices and got their winter coats and mitts and hats and then came down to speak to people outside. One by one they thanked the Chiefs for coming up and voicing their concerns and then proceeded to do their best to convince the crowd that they too were also in great measure sympathetic to all that the Chiefs had expressed to them and that they would try and do their best to recall what they had been informed of when they gathered together in the future to make their boardroom decisions on issues that might have direct impacts on the first nations peoples.
They tried to convey to the group that they were also concerned and committed and that their jobs and homes and families and the future of their children and grandchildren were also at stake and that they also had a stake in the community. After each of them spoke they were given a respectable acknowledgement by the group and drum beats of appreciation punctuated the air in affirmation.
When they had all had a say one of the Chiefs who was acting as spokesperson for the group, Chief Marilyn Baptise of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, spoke to them and asked both them and the group if any of them had committed themselves to actually taking the concerns that were brought to them to their higher ups in government. The consensus was that they hadn’t gone that far. Again, this frankness on the part of Chief Baptise was spoken respectfully and in turn was taken as such by the government representatives.
Then the group of government reps were asked to step into the center of the drumming circle and the group commenced a series of songs that rang out loud and clear in the cold January air and the dozens upon dozens of drums beat in unison as one hear would beat within the human breast.
As all of this was occurring I slowly walked away from the group becoming, at the same time, immersed in a gripping, emotional feeling too nebulous to pinpoint yet strongly reminiscent of intimations of ancient murmurings that rose up within me like smoke wafting upwards from some ancient campfire; memory smoke that brought tears to the shoreline of my eyes. I thought I could hear Chief Seattle words when he spoke of how the new settlers were poisoning and spoiling the nest that the people had lived in from time immemorial and how these thoughtless actions against the Earth Mother would one day come back to haunt them. I could hear Sitting Bull and the wisdom of Black Elk as they spoke of the many treaties that the aboriginal people had signed over the years with the new settlers; treaties that would soon be ignored and dishonoured with the subsequent bloodshed and massacres that inevitably became the order of the day while government carried on with its exploitation of the Mother’s resources.
And yet, for all that has gone down over the past centuries, I was still witnessing that same undaunted spirit, that same message of hope and reconciliation, coming forth from the mouths of all these young Chiefs who were continuing to persevere with the same patience, respect and determination to convince the mainstream society to stop and take a look at what they were doing to the Earth Mother and, ultimately, to themselves and all future generations. And the words of an old Pete Seeger song then came to mind, “When will they ever learn… when will they ever learn.”