THUNDER BAY – “They arrested ten of us,” stated Xwu’p’a’lich a Shishalh Elder who is determined to stop logging on Elphinstone Mountain on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. “What they are doing is a crime against humanity,” Xwu’p’a’lich a seventy-nine years young woman stated. “It will be generations, if ever, before our grandchildren and future generations can enjoy the forest again”.
Xwu’p’a’lich expressed concern over how the loss of the forest will impact the future of the people. She also states that from her perspective it also speaks poorly for the relationships between logging companies, the provincial government and First Nations are going. The concerns in British Columbia are similar for First Nations concerned over the impact of resource extraction companies as it is in Ontario with logging and more recently mining companies.
“We spend tens of millions of dollars going all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to prove the case that we have not sold or ceded our Territories to anyone,” stated Xwu’p’a’lich. “The Canadian Supreme Court fully agrees, and the BC Government keeps logging and arresting us anyways. When is the Canadian Justice System going to apply in the Province of British Columbia?”
The Shishalh Elder refers to the many court cases that have gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Supreme Court Justices have ruled in their favour. The Supreme Court of Canada has legally recognized their ownership to their historically ‘unceded’ lands and Territories. “This has been going on since before Confederation in this Province and the Shishalh Elders are bringing the hammer down,” comments Xwu’p’a’lich.
The 79 year old Elder explains what has been truly going on in B.C. “When a white person is the recognized owner of their land and a logging contractor shows up and starts logging their land without permission, the white owner phones the RCMP and they come and arrest the logging contractor. If an Indian owns the same land and a logging contractor shows up to log without permission, and the Indian owner objects, the logging contractor calls a Judge to get an injunction, then calls the RCMP and the Indian is arrested. That is how Canadian law is applied in B.C.”
“The Shishalh Elders are now enforcing these Supreme Court decisions,” says Xwu’p’a’lich. “When the RCMP and the logging contractor arrived on the scene, I told them to produce their bill of sale, a deed, or title to this mountain, proving they had a legal right to be there. They did not produce any of those documents because those documents do not exist. Instead they began arresting us and we have had it up to here with that kind of treatment.”
When Xwu’p’a’lich was a very young girl, she was told she was born to be the ‘Rememberer of the Shishalh People’.
“I was born into a family of Hereditary Chiefs that goes back further than anyone can remember. As a very young girl, I was told I was to be the Rememberer. I became scared and anxious and told my great grandmother, Mahtah, ‘I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.’ She put her hands on my young shoulders, looked deeply into my eyes and said, you will not understand now, but, when the time is right, you will know what to do.”
“My great grandmother was the family matriarch and quite old at the time. She was only four foot six inches tall, but cast a shadow 12 feet high. These were her instructions to me, and when she looked into my eyes, I felt it all the way down into the soles of my feet and all my fears left me. To keep me on this path, I was kept out of the clutches of the Residential School system and the Roman Catholic Church.”
“I have worked all of my life and raised three children with my husband. In the late 70’s, I went back to school and obtained a university degree in Education and after twenty years in that field, I retired. 14 years into my retirement, though, something suddenly changed.”
“On September 21st, of this year, I quietly found myself fighting and arguing with the voices of my ancestors. I was typing at my computer and trying to ignore them because I have always considered myself a coward when it comes to Indian medicine. I was doing quite well until I heard someone call my name. I looked around, but no one was there. I briefly went back to typing when I felt a hand on my shoulder and the voice of my great grandmother. “Mena,” she said, “the time is now to stand and hold.” Mena means ‘little one’ and it is what she used to call me when I was very, very young.”
“I finally surrendered to her orders, and the next day I went up to talk to the Peace Camp people and to perform the ceremony just as my grandfather, Chief Dan Paull did in 1939. I conducted the Ceremony to raise the four flags of my people in the four directions – to apply Shishalh Laws to our Lands”.
“I extended the Elders’ authority to the Peace Camp stewards as long as they acted with honour and integrity. They are helping us to stop the logging. This is how the Peace Campers became involved with the Shishalh Elders. When the Ceremony was complete, I gave a potlatch to thank them for their help.”
“When they arrested three of the Peace Campers a week earlier, the RCMP told them if they were arrested again they would be sent to a jail in Vernon, B.C. for six weeks until their trial date (500 kilometres away); I decided that I could no longer ask people to do our work for us. It was then I decided that I would have to be there on the line with them. Now I have a Court date in Vernon with everyone else on January 14th, 2013.”
“This is not over,” states Xwu’p’a’lich with quiet conviction, “It is only the beginning. I am told there are four more logging blocks in our territory to be logged, so it will be a while before the fat lady has finished singing on this Sunshine Coast.”