Not just a gathering
Something happened on a chilly and drizzly Monday afternoon and it wasn’t just a bunch of people milling about at Harbour Quay and then walking to City Hall. On March 27th, 2017 two leaders in this community, Cynthia Dick, Chief Councillor of Tseshaht First Nation, and Jolleen Dick, Councillor of Hupacasath First Nation organized a gathering to speak against systemic racism in Port Alberni.
It succeeded in bringing together a huge amount of people, here on the unceded territory of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations. All of these people were together to acknowledge that territory and acknowledge the pain that racism and hatred toward First Nations and toward one another has caused over the years and continues to cause today. Here are three big things I gained from the experience at the Walk for Reconciliation.
A long Walk uphill.
It is a long, steep journey up Argyle hill from Harbour Quay to City Hall. There were 200-300 people, trudging up the hill together. It was made easier because we were all together, we all had someone to talk to and share stories with. We were together in common cause and purpose, and it felt good. When you feel good about something, when you are with friends, when you know someone, or a lot of someones, have your back, it is a lot easier to tackle hard climbs. This will be a slow process, this reconciliation, but people are determined. Some will not be able to make the journey on their own and will need help. Others will not be able to participate at all but will meet us there at the finish line in full support.
A Song sung by All.
If you’ve followed me at all on Facebook you might have seen a Kinder Morgan protest march I participate in that featured a very strong First Nations presence. One of the big moments of that rally of tens of thousands strong was at the end, when a huge circle of Indigenous peoples from all over BC and elsewhere sang and drummed and they asked the crowd to join in. This was the first time I had participated in something where First Nations so openly invited all into their celebration and exclamation. It was very powerful and I think it made a real impact on people there.
There were a number of great songs sung at the Walk for Reconciliation on Monday.
And as Trevor Little of Tseshaht passionately led the final song in front of City Hall, drummed and sung by members of Tseshaht and Hupacasath and others, he encouraged the whole group to join in. Which it did, a little timidly perhaps, but it did. For this to be happening in my hometown. A town known for its divisions between races, even between neighbours, was very powerful. It was a wonderful moment and I thank Mr. Little especially for his passion and outspokenness.
Not just something to wear for the day
Finally, one last thing. When I first got there, John Alan Jack, councillor for Huu-ay-aht First Nation and Chair of the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District, walked up and offered me this head dress to wear.
He and other First Nation leaders were wearing similar features. I took it and wore it out of respect, but honestly I did so without really knowing what it symbolized.
After the event had wrapped up I walked back up to John and asked if I should give it back. He very kindly told me it was not something to return but something to wear at events of importance or where learning was taking place. It was a way to focus the mind on the task at hand and it was now mine.
I don’t seek out gifts from others, and so when I am given one of symbolic importance it is important to me. I want to thank Councillor Jack for his gift. I am still not entirely confident on how and when is the right time (and may bug John occasionally for advice) but I deeply appreciate the gesture.
I think it is safe to say that Charles Thomas (picture above, courtesy Jen Fisher Bradley) and many other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents of Port Alberni had a lot of fun yesterday. It was a wonderful event put on by two inspiring leaders in our community, supported by their Nations, and supported by the wider community in an unprecedented way. I hope we have all been able to come away with something of value from the event. I know I did, both in the form of a gift and in the knowledge that Port Alberni might just be ready to heal and grow. There are no set dates or defitinitions to this. We do not know if this is really the start of real reconciliation or not (I think it is), it comes down to the feeling in the community as a whole and the true relationships between people. The start and end are fluid, but I think we will know in time, when we have made good progress.
Klecko Klecko. ….. now… if I could just convince my keyboard to write that in the proper Nuu-Chah-Nulth, we’d have another step up the hill. HELP! 🙂
Update! See it always helps to ask for help. Here is where you can download keyboard layouts for a huge array of Indigenous Languages and install them on your Mac or Windows computer. You are looking for Nuučaan̓uł under the Wakashan group of languages.
For iOS users, you can grab the First Voices App and add the Keyboard Layout to your screen!
And if you just need a quick character translation, you can go to this webpage here!