January 19, 1968
Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada
|Genre||Native American literature|
|Literary movement||Indigenous Nationalism|
|Notable works||â€¢ Monkey Beach
â€¢ Blood Sports
|Notable awards||Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
In a pine tree behind me, an eagle waits out the rain, hunched into himself, brooding. Crows squabble, a murder chasing a raven. Seals cruise the lines of fishing nets bobbing in the water, hoping for an easy meal, the tender bellies of salmon.
A potlatch is similar to a court case in that both are prohibitively expensive; both involve lengthy speeches and the vigorous examination and debate of the actions, rights and legal responsibilities of the participants. One has food, singing and spiritual rites; the other, not so much.
On June 22, 1793, Vancouver's Discovery and Chatham anchored in Klekane Inlet. Archibald Menzies, the ship's botanist, wrote that on the evening of June 28, they were visited by eight natives in two canoes who brought them two large salmon. This is the first known published encounter with the Haisla people.
I'm a novelist from the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, both small coastal reserves hugging the rugged shores of the west coast.
The Haisla named this point Obela. Not so long ago, the bay was lined with longhouses and canoes, totem poles and fishing gear. The reserve was once a winter village, a place to celebrate the sacred season, when memories passed in dance and song and stories from one generation to the next with great feasts called potlatches.
Where I come from, people will spit at you if they think you support Enbridge.
The main reserve of the Haisla Nation hugs the northwest coast of British Columbia, about 500 miles north of Vancouver. The government docks sprawl on the south end of the reserve, nestled in a bay. As children, we swam at the docks and ran to the nearby point to pick blueberries and huckleberries when we were hungry so we wouldn't have to go home.
While hereditary chiefs inhabit the apex of our traditional social systems, it would be a mistake to think they hold all the power. They aren't kings. They aren't dictators. They're answerable to their clans and their matriarchs. All decisions that affect our communities require lengthy, deliberate discussions and careful negotiation.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act insulted the integrity of the very people in our communities who guide our economic policy and act as our mediators with provincial and federal governments.
Initial excitement over the announcement that Enbridge was building a pipeline to Kitimat dampened considerably when people discovered that the number of permanent jobs for locals, in the end, would amount to some dock workers.
The land and the ocean are living, breathing entities that supported us, clothed us, fed us, and nurtured our culture from time immemorial.