CONTRIBUTION · 30th January 2012
We are the Haisla People and the journey of our survival has brought us across the span of the northwest coast of North America from Washington State, throughout British Columbia, to Alaska, and across a very long span of historic time.
The act of harvesting natural resources from within Haisla Traditional Territory is, for us, a practice that goes back to our ancestral birth. It goes back to the ancient time of our arrival on this land; to a time long before the intervention of Western Culture and Politics. Our culturally-based, collective knowledge of food and resource harvesting practices, otherwise known as ,'Hunting and Gathering,' stands as a wealth of Cultural, Social and Technical knowledge developed over millennia. Our ancestors increasingly became more attuned to the nature of the resources, and to the demands of the physical environment of Haisla Traditional Territory.
Presently, our practices of harvesting food and other traditional resources reconnects us on an annual, seasonal basis, with the time when our cultural identity, and perspective as Indigenous Peoples, here upon our lands and waters, was clear and unobstructed.
It is our Indigenous People's Human Right to continue, unobstructed, with our historic practice of harvesting the traditional foods that help us to maintain a level of health to which we have become socially, physically and psychologically accustomed over these past millennia. As this Human Right stands within a 'Protected' status at the highest levels of International Convention, no threat to these Human Rights must be allowed as acceptable by any level of the International Community, including the country of Canada.
As the Haisla People in this 'Modern age', our traditional food harvesting activity continues to bring us on many journeys. It brings us physically out onto the lands and the waters of our Traditional Territory. It brings us into contact with the lakes, the rivers, the creeks, the pools, the waterfalls and the marine waterways, where our ancestors based their lives, where they raised their families, and fought to protect their homes and their freedom; where they performed ritualistic purification ceremonies; the places where they found their spiritual sustenance.
Our harvesting activity brings us to the shores, where we find the rock faces that contain the petroglyphs, which remain as gestures of greeting to us, and that go to signal the continuum of our habitation of these lands. It brings us to the shores where the dugout canoes of old were built and embarked onto journeys of the historic Haisla lifestyle.
We are able to walk the same routes, wade into the same pools, climb the same mountains, to see the same beauty, to feel the same love for the light in the eyes of our children, as they play on the shores, drink of the fresh waters, and eat the foods and the fruits of the waters and the land that continue to nourish us.
Our harvesting journeys bring us to what remains of the Old-Growth Forest; to the rivers, the valleys and the mountains, that even now, continue to mark the boundaries of our Territorial Lands and Waters; the Territory that has always supplied us with the wide variety of resources upon which we have always depended for our lives and for the lives of our children.
The bones of our ancestors are to be found in the lands around us. Our journeys across our Territorial Lands bring us to historically significant sites, where we find remains of the bent-wood boxes that contained the skeletal remains of those same ancestors, and that remain there throughout our lands. Their tools can be found on the shores and in the forests. Their stories are in the hearts of our elders. Their spirit is in the souls of the children who are reborn to us and their memories live in our dreams.
Those who have gone before us are with us in spirit and celebrate with us as we revisit and reconnect with the pristine places that remain of our ancestral homeland. They laugh with us in our times of happiness, and they stand by us in our times of grief. They move with us as we wander over the land and across the waters. They sit with us at the tops of the mountains that we climb; and for those who learn to listen, they speak to us and let us know that they are near.
Along the pathways of our journey, we find the 'Cedar plank trees' that were left by the hands of our ancestors and which stand as internationally recognized, legal Archaeological evidence, as to our true place in this country and in this world.
The act of drinking of the fresh waters of our Traditional Territories is one form of traditional prayer. The act of sitting at the edge of the waters of a lake, a river or at the tide line and simply appreciating the intrinsic, solemn and immaculate beauty of unadulterated nature is an act of deep and intense, traditional expression of gratitude of Northwest Coast style prayer.
To live each day with a deep appreciation for the wholeness and the purity; the sanctity of nature, this is the language and the voice of our Traditional Culture. This is the realm, and the practice, and the voice of our Traditional Spirituality; in essence this is the nature and the way of our religion. In this way we continue to practice the religion of our ancestry.
At this point in our history, we the Haisla People find ourselves facing the ultimate threat to our place in this world, namely the potential destruction of the precious and irreplaceable ecological integrity of our Traditional Homeland environment; the demolition of our social, cultural, religious, and Spiritual base; the emaciation and the destitution of the ecological heart of our Homeland Territory.
Long after 'Big Oil' and its money is gone from our Homeland Territory, what will be left of our home? What will be left of our lives; our families; our friends? What will be left for our children and future generations? What will become of the remains of our Traditional Culture? The answer is destruction, destitution and death.
If my ability to hunt, and to gather, and to engage in traditional practice were lost or compromised, it would affect me in the following ways:
A. Economic / Health: I depend heavily upon the natural food resources of Haisla Territory, to sustain myself and my family. Meats and sea foods that are harvested from our Territorial lands and waters, are free of chemical additives, hormonal additives, and preservatives, and continue to provide us with greatly increased levels of health, vitality and quality of life. The medicines that we gather from the lands, and from the waters, are also a great source of health benefits, as we continue to take up old remedies, and to discover new medicinal remedies to be found and derived from plants and trees of our Territory.
If my ability to hunt, gather and to fish were lost or compromised due to industrial destruction of habitat I, as well as my family, would suffer greatly as a result of a severe decline in the quality of our diet. Haisla elders and others in the community with whom I share the fruits of my harvesting activities would also suffer the same loss. The loss of this resource would be an economic catastrophe for me and for my family.
B. Socially: Our harvesting and sharing of traditional food resources of Haisla Territory is truly a social event. It brings us together as we find ourselves out on the lands and on the waters, in the acts of harvesting the foods and other resources. At these times we learn from one another, and teach the young, the lessons that we have learned about the harvest, about self determination, and about leadership. We cement old friendships and develop new ones. These interactions effectively become events of social and cultural development, where we hear each other's renditions of old stories, and of past personal experiences, on the waters and on the land.
This is effectively a recording of our living history, as well as the re-establishment and the reinforcement of cultural norms. For us, as the Haisla, it is ultimately a community building process. It is through such social activity that the Haisla Culture continues to find its basis.
The loss of harvesting practices, due to the loss or the destruction of our natural resources, would mean the loss of this social activity that is crucial to the continuation of Haisla Cultural identity, and the longevity of Traditional Haisla Cultural Practices and Society. This would truly be a tremendous loss of quality of life, at many levels, for myself, for my family and friends, as well as for the local and extended Haisla Community.
C. If I were to lose my access to, and my ability to enjoy, the vibrant nature of my homeland due to destruction by industry my quality of life would be incredibly diminished. The quality of life of my family and friends would, without question, also be incredibly diminished; our spirits would suffer greatly. I believe that the resultant suffering would cause tremendous heart break and the impact of such loss among our people would be immeasurable; for many insurmountable.
I believe that as a direct result of associated social degradation, cultural shock and a general sense of loss, the youth of my community would suffer greatly, the incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse would increase steeply and the suicide rate within my community would escalate beyond any historic milestone.
Comment by traditionalsmokesignals on 1st February 2012
This is a great read, and an awesome example of who we are as first nations people. Thank you, Greg for taking the time to educate us on how you as a Haisla man, view your connection and your peoples connection to mother earth. I think all first nations people are brought up with similar virtues and values , and it is so refreshing to hear they are still very much alive.