One of my best friends, who is also of mixed parentage, has been urging me to make a film about John and Mary Williams, who are the heads of an Aboriginal family whom she greatly admires for their dedication to their principles, their integrity in upholding their Lil’Wat heritage, and for standing up for their rights, no matter the cost. To me, this is familiar territory on many levels…
John and Mary do not receive, nor would they accept, any government funding; neither from the Mount Currie band Council, nor from any other Canadian government source. They are trying to make a point by living their lives as free and independent Lil’Wat citizens. To them, Canada is a foreign colonial entity that they can not and will not identify with. To this, John added: “What we rely on is the Lil’Wat Declaration that was signed by all Lil’Wat leaders in 1911. We never signed any treaty with anybody, and we are not looking to sign any treaty with anybody. We are a free and independent country, like we have always been. It seems that we are prisoners of democracy, or that they don’t consider us human – we are not treated as human beings. In the Papal Bulls they called us “beasts of prey”.”
In their parents’ generation, their family survived the smallpox genocide. They were squeezed into and out of reservations. They actually had to buy the land on which they live and grow their vegetables. They lived through abuses that killed other children. They fought the co-opting of independence initiatives and Aboriginal leadership positions. They witnessed their house burning down twice. They risked arrest for rising up against the destruction of their forests, lakes and rivers. They taught their children how to live off the land, and today, in the remaining forests of the surrounding mountains, they collect medicinal herbs, mushrooms and berries, and cut boxwood branches to sell to flower stores for money. They still have yearly battles with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans when they fish for wild salmon along the rivers and lakes of their home territory. And while all this is going on, they educated and raised nine children, and help support 10 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.
Our film is a story about a Lil’Wat family’s struggle for freedom and self-sufficiency. It is a story about dignity, determination & resilience. But it is only one thread in the bigger picture, in the web of abuses and deceit, of ongoing colonial attitudes, and of a callous disregard for the needs and values of Aboriginal peoples in Canada in this age of “Truth and Reconciliation”. It is a story of the struggles facing Aboriginal Peoples from Coast to Coast to Coast, and the people and movements that have arisen to raise awareness and support the peoples of this land in their struggle to overcome the negative legacy left behind by our colonial past. It is about our common, necessary struggle to battle the destructive forces being foisted upon them, and on all of us, by the corporate powers. It is about exposing and dismantling the links that intimately tie soulless corporations to the governments we keep electing with our broken electoral system.
To this end, we are collecting stories, especially in video format, depicting what is going on in this land that is not our land. We want to viscerally create an impact that hits you when you see the land and its people being attacked, all together in one place, on one website, to give you a bit of the feeling that Aboriginal people must feel when they get overwhelmed, not only by the traumas of the past, but by the continuing onslaught of the present.
But I know that being overwhelmed is not the best way to move forward. After witnessing the resilience displayed by John and Mary and their determined progeny; after a lifetime dedicated to activism myself, I finally see a glimmer of light on the horizon, despite the proliferation of far-reaching destruction in the form of fracking, drilling, damming, mining, expanding prisons, suicides, missing women and girls, corruption and despotism, to name a few. I feel this glimmer of hope because of a youth-based, non-violent, inclusive, grass roots movement identifying itself as “Idle No More”. It started in the Arctic with a boy walking thousands of kilometers to support a female chief who went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the plight in her community, and spread across the globe from there. It is a movement for unity, for working together, for fulfilling the prophecy of the Seventh Generation that has been told since ‘we’ first overran this continent. Perhaps, by believing in this prophecy, it will become a reality? (If you don’t know this prophecy, a quick Google will lead you to all kinds of sources and interpretations of it. I just found one called the Anishanabe legend of the 8th fire, by a woman blogger that I kind of like, although it may seen kind of New-Agey to some. http://www.spiritofthe8thfire.com/bonnys-blog.)
Addendum to the above text:
Although it seemed obvious to me, after reading thie above texts my mother asked: “Yes, but what do they want?”
“Who, they”? I asked back.
“The Indians!” she said.
“Which “Indians?” – John and Mary?” I asked.
“Yes”, she said.
Well, I haven’t asked John and Mary that exact, all encompassing question yet. And obviously I can’t speak for them. It’s what making this film is for – for you to hear THEIR answers FROM them. All I could say to answer my mom’s question, was to say that I may have heard some partial answers when I asked other questions. Mary has said “what they want is their children to learn in their own language, their own history, their own values”, in a way and in a school designed and controlled by them. And John has explained to me how our school system has failed, and that what they need and want out of schooling is for their children to be taught useful things, things that help them live in their way, where they are. (John and Mary did set up a school and ran an ‘out in nature’ based program for some years, but the first was sabotaged, and the second ran out of private funding.)
They don’t want our government telling them what to do, and not do, on their land. They want to be recognized as members of a Nation called the Lil’Wat, not Canada, where decisions are not made via ‘democracy’ (which they understand as a form of bullying by a temporary majority) but where decisions are made in the old way, by building consensus through meaningful dialogue. They want to live with dignity, and peace, freely and independently, on their own land, as members of the Lil’Wat Nation.
But the above are my words, paraphrasing what I heard. To hear them speak for themselves, go to the voice recordings, arranged by heading, or to the links of raw video clips (which may end up only being used in part, due to length, or sound quality, during the film editing process).