More and more often, we are reading in the news about the federal government and various intelligence and law enforcement agencies allegedly “spying” on aboriginals and pipeline opponents.
I am both of those things. I have no idea whether strangers are picking up shards of information from my emails and text messages. I have no idea what kind of beautiful stained-glass mosaics their imaginations might create. But in the spirit of wild and optimistic honesty, I would like to make a declaration to them, just in case:
I have nothing to hide from you.
Sometimes I can be arrogant. I’m very bad at playing guitar, but you know, I think I can sing pretty nicely. I like an embarrassing amount of honey in my tea. When I hike in the forest, I like to run. I write poems on napkins and receipts and scraps of paper and most of the time, I lose them; maybe you’ve found some. I don’t make my bed. Even though I think they’re silly, sometimes when it’s laundry day I resort to wearing animal print underpants.
I love my family so much it feels like my heart could burst out of my chest. Yeah, I know that emotions don’t really come from the little organ hidden behind my ribs, but I’ll admit it: I simplify the things that are too complex for me to comprehend, and I am content with those little truths I create. Besides, my family is pretty amazing. I really think my cousins build better forts than anyone else in the world, and they’re all my best friends.
It’s not just my family, though. I love my people. I really believe this: there are salmon swimming in my veins. Isn’t that incredible? My vertebrae are just stones from an old fishtrap arranged into a spine. My whole body belongs to the land I come from. I didn’t inherit the legacy of my ancestors; I’m part of a continuum. My whole sense of time is probably different from yours. I have 10,000 beautiful years of history on my shoulders and I live my life hoping that future generations will nod quietly to themselves someday and think of me as just another face in the vast village of ancestors that lives in their imagination. I’m Heiltsuk; it’s imprinted in every cell in my body.
Okay, that probably sounded a little smug. I told you I can be arrogant. Really, though, I wish everyone could experience how beautiful it is to know where you come from and to know where your bones will rest too. With a good heart, I wish you the peace that comes from having deep roots.
What else should I tell you? I was going to say “that you should never be afraid of me,” but I’m not sure that would be honest of me, and this is an exercise in honesty after all.
A journalist asked me a question once. Well, journalists ask me questions all the time – I’m not sure why – but there was one question I particularly liked. Not because it was original, but because of how he asked it.
This journalist, he was sitting on my deck last summer in Bella Bella, and a couple of barn swallows were swooping over us while he interviewed me. We were trying to have a very grave conversation, but it was a sunny day, and my heart was feeling light. After awhile, his formal interview tone just sort of dissipated, and then he asked me in a small voice: “Do you think this pipeline will get built?”
I couldn’t help it. It was instinct. I started giving my usual, predictable response. “I’ll be dead before this pipeline gets built,” I snapped. Then I paused and thought about his tone. And so he looked relieved when my voice got softer too, and then I said a thing I really do believe with all my heart: “But I hope it’s the case that I die an old, old woman, whose grandchildren never got tired of hearing how granny watched the people rise up to defeat the pipeline.”
I don’t want to die to stop this from happening. More importantly, I don’t want to ask other people to risk their own wellbeing to fight beside me if it comes to that. It’s why I work so hard to find peaceful resolutions. But people can be hard and soft at the same time, you know. I want justice for the land and its people without any violence. But that is secondary to a simpler statement: I want justice for the land and its people. I hope we find justice and peace; I know we will find justice.
I’m arrogant sometimes, but often it’s to cover up being nervous. When the journalist’s voice went quiet that afternoon, I should have known that for a moment, he was just a nervous person asking me a personal question. And you know what? I believe we should reciprocate the trust that comes with someone making themselves vulnerable in front of us.
That probably sounded like I expect you to trust me with your vulnerability too, stranger, if you do indeed exist. But don’t feel pressed. Making space for something isn’t the same as asking for it. Just know that if you want to tell me your secrets, I will respect them.
If you remember just one thing from what I’ve shared, I hope it’s not that I own animal print underpants or that sometimes I switch to autopilot when I’m being interviewed by journalists. I hope you remember that I have nothing to hide from you.
Maybe you’re worried that I’m organizing a riot when all I’m really doing is building community. Maybe you think I’m opposing development when really what I’m doing is protecting something sacred. Maybe you have questions about place-based indigenous identity. Or maybe you don’t ever ask yourself “Why?” Me, though, I sleep well at night because I do my work with a good heart; I’ll answer any questions you ask of me in the same spirit. If you’re out there, and if you’re “spying,” come out of the shadows. Be the audience to a story. Or be a participant in dialogue. Let’s understand one another instead of one side watching the other. Don’t be passive; be bold, and engage!
You don’t need to worry. My people have a long tradition of feasting with their enemies.
I’ve made peace with the possibility of watchers. I hope someday when this is all over, you will come out and publicly affirm all that to which you bore witness when reading my emails: that my boyfriend is, as I often rave to my friends, incredibly handsome; that the seventeenth round of edits to that draft of my thesis chapter is good enough already; and that as I write to my sister in Vancouver quite frequently, I’d give just about anything to share a cup of tea with her. I really do miss her. But you know that.
Does that sound like a deal? If so, give me a sign. I’m sure you are able to manipulate my devices and accounts to do so.
In the spirit of kindness,
Read more from Jess on her blog Coast: Stories, Poems and Personal Journal.