It’s about Haida Gwaii. And it’s about Haida people, most certainly. And it’s also about an encounter of the Haida Nation and the communities of Haida Gwaii with the federal government of Canada as represented in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel.
It’s about the quest of the rich and powerful meeting the resistance of people, land and sea. It’s about the courage of people to be who and what they are, in the face of fear and a terrible dread. It’s a story that’s been written before. It’s being written again.
The three members of the JRP, Sheila Leggett, Hans Matthews, Kenneth Bateman, and their entourage of 10 or 12 support staff, spent four days in all on Haida Gwaii in the past month. They sat February 28 and 29, in Old Massett and March 21 and 22 in Skidegate.
We know from other such panel visitations in the past, that the quasi-judicial JRP process is an exercise in pretty raw governmental power. There are massive sets of rules and regulations, arbitrary procedures and technical requirements. Unless you are a lawyer, it’s not the most comfortable of circumstances. At face value, the purpose of the JRP is to gather evidence. But, inevitably, if you find yourself on the negative side of a proponent who is being outright supported by the federal government, it’s difficult not to see yourself forced into the position of supplicant – pleading, imploring, offering evidence and testimony in your own defence.
It’s tough to maintain a centre of dignity and integrity in a situation like that. But then, people around here have always been very good at absorbing issues of power and, always respectfully, moving forward through an entirely different axis of action. This is the history of politics on Haida Gawii.
As anybody who has been here will tell you, the natural and supernatural powers of Haida Gwaii are both formidable and transformative. Land, sea, sky, wind, forest, mountain and water are what really matter in our lives.
As the Irish poet Seamus Heaney says there is always “health and worth” in talking about the land. In his poetic way he writes that in speaking words about the land there can be found the feeling of where there is sure ground to stand on, the knowing of who you are and what you can do. In words about the land there can be found the restoration of the inner self, peace and identity.
As Heaney describes it, words which tell about the land carry with them:
An inner restitution, a purchase come by
By pacing it in words that make you feel
You’ve found your feet in what “surefooted” means
And in the ground of your own understanding–
In those four days of hearings, we collectively explored the length and breadth of all this is Haida Gwaii — land and water, people and place, culture and working lives, song and art, tradition and innovation. The speakers of our communities paced out step by step the power of the land and sea, and what it means to the lives and culture of the people of Haida Gwaii. And, word by word, our collective story was transcribed into the federal government record.
But then, through the course of the hearings, what really emerged as all those stories were told, was an unexpected reflection of ourselves as a whole picture — as communities in our particular renditions of a hero’s journey — together.
I know that for many of the 300 or so people who attended the hearings, there was a real sense that what we have been doing over the past many years is picking up the pieces of what has been lost, broken or stolen. It is a struggle to be sure. Western culture spent several hundred years trying to separate the sacred from the profane, and the people from the land and let’s hope it takes less than several hundred years to knit it all back together.
Just being there, in the midst of a community making its power both articulate and visible is a whole lot different than reading about it. I am hopeful that the panel members who came to hear us were touched by the people and the place, the hospitality, the respect they were shown and will learn much from the stories that were told to them.
There is no doubt where the communities stand on the Enbridge issues. The lines are clear. Utterly, completely, and to the end, the well-being of Haida Gwaii will be protected!