I learned something about non violence this weekend when I visited Chief Theresa Spence's teepee on Victoria Island. Nowhere in her words or in the words of her attendants was there violence of speech toward Stephen Harper, whom many centre and left people love to insult. I heard only respectful requests for his consultation and the only harsh words I saw flung in his direction came from white visitors to the Chief's encampment. Next to the peaceful intention of the Chief and her people, even the slightest harsh language felt to me like an act of violence, and it made me rethink my own practice concerning the power of words.
Many friends talk of despair in the face of an unyielding federal government when it comes to respect for the land and for rivers and for the essential simplicity of a life grounded in that respect. We talk of weeping, we mention futility. But visiting the site of Chief Spence's non violent resistance showed me that our position of standing up for the land is far from futile. Her encampment has a sacred fire, around which native drummers and singers address the very real problems of humanity with a power I think mainstream culture might underestimate.
Victoria Island is provocatively named, considering its central location in sight of the austere, imposing Parliament Buildings, whose turrets and clock tower and rippling Canadian flag appear through a clearing in the trees where Chief Spence's teepee stands. Beside the teepee is an eagle feather staff, which an elder explained to me is the Native counterpart to that Canadian maple leaf on the highest tower of Parliament. "The eagle staff is on the ground," he said, "because this land has never been taken from us. The Canadian flag is high in the air, not on the ground."
Speaking out for protection of rivers and land has become a grassroots movement worldwide, and the aboriginal voice is the central component. It is not futile to speak up for the land and water, it is the only choice we have. A thing about using our voices, and about using our gentle, non violent actions to support a living future, is that we don't have to know what to do to win. We need only to take, today, even the most tentative small action, and the next step, the next connection to others in the lifegiving community, will become apparent. This is a spiritual path and there is real power in prayer, in drumming, and in the round dances of the movement. There is also power in writing letters, in talking to each other, and in bodily being present together while speaking up for the land.
Here are some of my photos from my time on Victoria Island, which the Algonquin used to call Island of the Pipe. Who will listen to a middle aged woman Chief on a non violent fast in support of life for her people and for all people? The whole world will listen. The world is already listening: look at the cameras from international press, waiting for Chief Theresa to come out of her teepee and speak her truth. The photograph shows only a fraction of the camera crews I witnessed coming to share her peaceful message with the world. The other photograph shows the eagle staff in the ground outside her tent, with the same sun shining through the feathers that shines on all of us and invites us to speak out in the light and be part of the coming enlightenment that respects rivers, land, air and all living beings.
On January 1st, 2013 03:55 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Thanks so much for sharing your visit, Kathleen! I'm very excited about what this woman is doing and the way the First Nations are beginning to get the attention and momentum that we all need regarding making sure our environment is protected. It's well past time and so inspiring!
On January 1st, 2013 08:54 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Kathleen: I too so strongly believe in the sacrifice Chief Spence is making. I sincerely hope that the Great Spirit which protects all of you there continues to do so. I can only hope as well that the same Great Spirit leaves the Chief to work here among us for our world and our sadly misguided contry would be a much lesser place without her.I too indeed have used words of rancor and dissension in discussing our government in Ottawa but hopefully I'm learning as well that the only way to resolve our issues at all levels of society is indeed 'the way of the teepee' where dialog begins and hopefully never ends. Chief Spence carries such a vast, vast load on her shoulders and even if we could we cannot relieve her either of her burdens or the glory that is her historical stand. I am another who is standing in absolute reverence and solidarity with all of you at Victoria (such a lovely, lovely place) and may it all end as we so fervently hope and trust that it must.