By Sherry Marr
Well, friends, it has been a time, hasn’t it? Each week more challenging, and concerning, than the week before. I have been glued to the tv, an admitted news junkie since my youthful days as a newspaper reporter. It has been heavy, watching it all unfold. We thought dealing with the pandemic was difficult enough. Then came George Floyd, “I can’t breathe”, and people marching in protest all around the world. George Floyd’s six year old daughter, saying, “My daddy changed the world” made me cry. Let’s hope, for all little girls and boys everywhere, that he has. I know Brendan ably covered racism last week, but as the fallout from these events are still being felt, I hope you will forgive me for continuing the conversation.
For this past week, in Tofino, the issue of police brutality to First Nations people hit close to home.
On June 4, a young Tla-o-qui-aht woman from Tofino named Chantel Moore was shot five times by a policeman in New Brunswick making a “wellness” check. She had just moved there to be near her daughter. She had told friends that someone was harassing her; she was afraid. One of them asked the police to make a wellness check. When she answered the door, she had a knife in her hand. Maybe she thought it was her harasser at the door? The policeman didn’t talk to her, didn’t try to de-escalate the situation, didn’t back out of her space and call for a woman officer. He shot her five times, killing her. She was 26. Her daughter, five years old, now motherless.
Last Monday, we marched. I don’t think there has ever been a bigger turnout in Tofino, a village of 2,000. Hundreds turned out. “George Floyd!” “Chantel Moore!” “Indigenous Lives Matter!” “No justice, no peace!” rang out as we circled the village and passed the police station.
We marched to the dock and lay down for nine minutes, the time it took for George Floyd to lose his life. Then we marched back to the village green where people spoke from their hearts, about racism, about the colonial system, about our need to come together to challenge the systemic racism which has kept a beautiful people, the original people of this land, oppressed for hundreds of years.
The Nuu chah nulth people have been caretakers of the land here for ten thousand years. They have strict protocols for how they tend the earth. If they take bark from a tree for basket-making, they then leave that part of the forest alone to heal for a hundred years or more. Each family is given an area to protect; there are protocols right down to the picking of berries. Every action is taken with consideration of the next seven generations. Every part of nature is respected and viewed as kin. Their beliefs speak to me; they understand, as do all indigenous people, that we are only one part of nature, not its masters.
At the rally, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Manager Terry Dorward warned, “Hard times are coming. We have to learn to work together and help each other as a community. We’re going to sing a love song. Amongst all this hate in the world, we need a little bit of love.” The drums came out and spoke to me, as they always do. The women followed, with a warrior song, right fists raised in protest; the strength of women rising, all the mothers, the grandmothers, the maidens, the strong little bright-eyed children. My battered old heart gently weeps.
An amazing teen activist, Toby Theriault, spoke up for Mother Earth. She said, “We have to look after each other, and the first people of this land. But we also have to look after Mother Earth.” (Toby spent six weeks this past winter striking for climate justice at the corner of Third and Campbell.)
Toby spoke truth. Social justice and climate justice go hand in hand. If we don’t address the climate crisis, the issue of social justice will soon become moot.
I came away hoping maybe this time we will get it right.
During this time of pandemic and social unrest, voices have fallen silent about climate change. But it is still accelerating. If we are going to change things, we need to begin with how we live on Mother Earth. If the climate continues to heat, and air pollution to choke us, the whole planet, including us, will be saying “I can’t breathe.”
The Hopi have been issuing warnings for such a long time. Hopi shaman White Eagle recently released a statement to assist us through these times. “This moment humanity is going through now can be seen as a portal, or a hole. You can choose to fall down the hole, or go through the portal….Do not lose the spiritual dimension of this crisis; have eagle vision and see the whole, see more broadly. There is social demand in this crisis, but there is also a spiritual demand; the two go hand in hand.
“Learn about the resistance of the indigenous and African peoples,” he continued. “We continue to be exterminated, but we still keep singing, dancing, lighting a fire. You help if good things emanate into the universe now. When the storm passes, you will be important in the reconstruction of the world. What world do you want to build? Sing, dance, resist through art, faith, joy and love.”
Art as resistance; I love it.
May we roar as loudly for Mother Earth as we do for justice. She needs our voices, our help, our marching feet, our votes. She also needs our love. A lifelong activist I know once told me, “Mother Earth feels your pain; let her feel your joy, too.” I have always remembered that.
We have ample cause for protest, but, as White Eagle has pointed out, it’s important that we not forget our love songs. The mama bear’s roar is a rage against threat, but also fierce love for what she is protecting. What is it that YOU love and how will you protect it?
This brings us, in a convoluted way, to our challenge. Following the example of the Tla-o-qui-aht elder with his drum, and White Eagle with his joyous resistance, let’s spread a little love around. To lift our spirits, and to remember why we write and care so much, let’s send Mother Earth some love.
Let’s write: Love Songs to Mother Earth
I can’t tell you how much I look forward to reading your responses.