Monday, 29 August 2011

Roots - The Source of Power

Great-Gramma Anna Love with Grandchildren (my Dad is 2nd from the top right)
I am grateful for my past and the connection it has helped me make to this land.  Traveling and going to school elsewhere has taught me that a connection to a place is not common in North America.  If people don’t like something about where they live or if there's little work, they just simply move.  Without roots to keep us grounded, we don’t care about the future of the land and will soon run out of places to escape to.

The First Nations have been saying this for years and it’s only recently that I understood why.  My family has 6 generations in the Kispiox Valley.  That's over a 110 years of history here, a drop in the bucket compared to the Gitxsan but a helluva long time for a settler family.

My introduction to politics was sitting around my Gramma Dorothy Allen's table.  From as far back as I can remember, folks would sit around that table and talk about the ways of the world and the issues of the day. 
Gramma & Grandpa Allen on their wedding day
My Gramma’s table was always full.  Whether it was fishermen from Jersey, birdwatchers from Britain, berry pickers from the village or a bunch of relatives – her table was never lacking for people or good conversation.  She would shove all sorts of her homemade desserts right in front of you with a plate, fork and a cup of cowboy coffee brewed from her wood cook-stove.   It didn’t matter if you didn’t want or ask for any of these things, it was understood that you were to eat it.  She had a grand selection of treats and was known all over the world for her cooking.  In a single day from her wood cook-stove she made cake, regular buns, cinnamon buns, pie, cookies, and a fridge dessert (either fig bars or pineapple cheesecake squares) and slices of the many fresh veggies from her garden or greenhouse.  That enormous amount of food was consumed in a single day and gives you an idea of just how many people sat around her table. She turned 93 this August.
My Great Uncles started a guide outfitting business called Love Bros. and Lee
Then there's my Grandpa Marty Allen who worked just as hard.  He was a farmer, had cattle, grew his own feed & grain, chickens for eggs and eating, a milk cow and sometimes a couple of pigs.  It has always been hard work to be a farmer and it seems to be getting harder.  My Mom often joked that they had to work so hard to afford all the groceries that went into Gramma's baking.  It was the best coffee shop in the north but no one paid for their coffee...well, not with money.
To supplement his farming income Grandpa monitored, recorded and called in the weather station stats twice a day and maintained an active trap-line.  He died a few years back and I miss him a lot, especially his loud and contagious laugh.
Some of the people that visited came solely to talk politics as Grandpa was the Regional District representative for the area.  A Regional District is sort of like the rural people’s mayor and council.  Others would pop by on their way up the road where they were going to log, pick berries, trap, hunt or fish.  Even my school bus would stop and let all the kids off for a few minutes to eat snacks and treats before loading back up to complete the ride home.  Chiefs and friends from the Gitxsan nation were always fun because they would talk about the old days and the shenanigans they got into with my grandparents.  There didn’t seem to be a type of person that didn’t visit that table, even some of the hippies (as Grandpa so lovingly referred to them) often sat around the table.  My Grandpa was known for making his opinions obvious and he thought hippies were weird but still had a great deal of respect and got along with most of them.  One always knew the goings’on by stopping in at the Telegraph Trail Ranch.
While some conversations were regular gossip, most conversations were about the government.  I remember Grandpa Marty slamming his fist on the table several times using words like “sonofabitch” and “crooked-ass”.   The word, ‘politician’ was always preceded by ‘dirty’.  He was usually upset by decisions the government had made and the lack of anything getting done about it.  I used to wonder how all these injustices my Grandpa talked about were possible.  How can the decision makers get away with it?  It was obvious that he felt helpless, that little could be done, government was all powerful and they just don’t care about the little guy and the farmer seemed be worth less than ‘the little guy’.  You can be damned sure he kept on top of issues and consistently shared his thoughts about each of them with whoever graced his table. He was salt of the earth and even when talking about the government, he still had a smile on his face.  He never realized for one second that he was an active citizen who was affecting change in his region.  He kept his spot on the regional district for many years, and while he berated all the politicians in the world, he was one.
The apple surely didn’t fall far from the tree as my father’s table hears very similar conversations.  My father, Gene, is a very tall, Irish-looking man who made his mark in the world as one of the finest rodeo stock contractors on the planet.  He worked for 40+ years as a logger and often had to work in logging camps away from us.  It was the price you paid for living in the north but the reward of living here made the price worthwhile.  I have always been proud of my Dad for standing up the way he does.  Sometimes he goes against the grain to fight for what he knows to be right.  He protested the logging of the headwaters of the Kispiox River stating that 45 days of logging wasn't worth destroying our river.  He had to fight against his own livelihood, his source of employment and lost a few friends in the mix.  But after decades of collaborating with other Valley folks, fights in the New Town Pub, meetings, death threats and legal threats, that place is now protected under the Swan Lake Wilderness Area and our river is healthy.

This story was not only our story to tell, most of the families in the area lived a similar life.  It didn’t matter if you lived in town, the villages or in the valleys, life in the north was tough and forged a hardy breed of people that seem to have a zest for life.  There’s a strong sense of culture in the north that guides us to take matters into our own hands and not to rely on others to protect our interests.  We have an 85% unemployment rate and yet people aren't willing to sell our salmon, wilderness and water quality for a few jobs.  People seem to understand that the bust always lasts longer than the boom and it's the natural landscape that sustains us through the long busts.

There has always been conflict in this place, in any place really.  We want to approach the present and future issues with the knowledge of the past but without the baggage.  We are connected to each other through the understanding of enduring long winters together and by the mighty Skeena River and its tributaries that run through our communities carrying bountiful salmon stocks.  We want to celebrate the fact that it’s a messy process of working things out and dive into the goop knowing that we will be better for it in the end.  Much of this work is being done by individuals at the community level, not by institutions or government. If you were born with roots in this soil or have come to replant yourself here, there’s one thing that anyone who lives in the north understands – you mess with our salmon, our people or our land and you’ll get a folk storm crashing down on you so fast that you won’t know what hit you!

It all boils down to roots.  We don't get another place with 110 years of history, the First Nations only have 1 traditional territory.  This is all we have and we will fight for as if our very lives depend on it because in reality...they do.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Heart of the Valley - Prelude

Kispiox Valley is a community with heart!  Not only do we live in the most beautiful place in the world, we have the greatest people.  Where else can you go to the community hall with blankets, a bag of your own popcorn and pillows to sprawl about on the floor to watch a movie with dozens of friends and neighbours?  I would like to add that the movie is preceded by a gourmet meal prepared by a local volunteer chef and food donated by the local farmers and residents.  The Prime Minister would be lucky to be served such a meal.
There's also the other random events like the Holly Artzen and Kevin Wright concert that was complimented by more donated food in the order of chocolate delights that came in all sorts of arrangements including a chocolate fountain.  Where else in the world can you go where Rachelle vanZanten and Roy Henry Vickers happen to be in the audience and jump on stage to jam for a few songs?  It's a little piece of heaven and I don't mean the chocolate cake.

As the 2011 steelhead fishing season is newly upon us, I am already anxiously awaiting its end when residents will again have time on their hands to attend community events.  There is one event, however, that will be certain to sell out right smack dab in the middle of the fishing season.  Impossible you might think but this very event sold out last year.  The 2nd annual Heart of the Valley Fundraiser is sure to pack the house with people seeking exquisite food, heart-felt & compelling presentations by a person of local fame, fine wine and an opportunity to bid on items in a fundraising auction with the world champion auctioneer himself, Keith Dinwoodie.  Last year, this little valley of gumboots, flat tires and plaid earned $20,000 for the community association to pay off our community hall renovation with such an event.

If you want to be a part of a community with a heart so big it starts to bulge into Smithers and Terrace then I strongly suggest you be a volunteer for this fundraiser.  The first meeting will be September 7th, 7pm at the Kispiox Valley Community Hall.