THUNDER BAY – LIVING – Many years ago I when I first started travelling I ventured out on a trip to Asia that included a stop in Japan and then a road trip through Thailand. It was an educational experience and introduced me to other cultures, food, scenery and adventure. I was very happy that I travelled with a friend as often it was complicated and at time dangerous exploring these countries.
At one point I ended up in a more remote part of Thailand as we had rented a jeep and drove through much of the country. I was happy to reach a more quiet, remote part of Thailand and excited to be situated on an amazing beach in a little rustic resort owned and operated by a Thai national who had survived the Battle of Khe Sanh during the Vietnamese war. He was part of a large contingent of Thai who were hired as mercenaries to fight for the Americans at the time.
Facing inland there was thick jungle with all kinds of snakes, insects and dangerous howling monkeys. However, facing the sea we enjoyed an incredible sand beach that stretched for miles and the water was clean and warm. We were the only people in the resort but we felt relatively safe with our Khe Sanh survivor watching over us. Although we were offered the exotic tree house accommodation on huge trees facing the ocean we opted for an air conditioned cement bungalow with more protection from the insects at night.
We went for a long walk on the beach on our first day at this little resort and ended up in a fishing village where we also discovered a brand new western style resort. It featured a restaurant and bar overlooking the ocean so we decided to have lunch. We were amazed to find ourselves served by a young man who spoke perfect English with a very British accent. It turned out that his parents, who were very well educated and wealthy had recently developed what they called an eco-resort.
Our chat was light and lively until he asked where we were staying and when we arrived, then things turned a little dark. He bluntly let us know that the resort we were at was considered by he and is family as illegal and he pointed out that we could be jailed for simply staying there. He added that his family were well connected to the regional police. Of course we explained that as tourists we had no idea we were staying at an ìillegal resortî. We ordered food and drinks and sat in the shade of palm umbrellas while peering out at the blue ocean which held a lot of traffic with the local fisherman coming and going from the village next door.
Soon the young man visited with us again and this time accompanied with his well educated and well heeled parents. The conversation again turned to the fact that we were staying in an ìillegal resortî and that we could be charged and jailed for that. My friend and I did our very best to warm up to these very intense individuals and finally they loosened up a bit and the atmosphere became more congenial. In telling us their success story in developing their sprawling resort they mentioned that they had to hire armed guards to keep an eye at the entrance ways to the complex. We were surprised to discover that they had not consulted with the local fishing village inhabitants when they decided to plunk down their eco-resort right in the middle of their town. They advised us to be very careful of our comings and goings at the resort as the villagers were becoming threatening to the owners, their staff as well as clients. They were afraid of being murdered in the night.
When we left the eco-resort it was dark and we could not return by the beach but had to make out way down a jungle trail with the only light emitting from our disposable flash cameras which we operated all the way back to our ìllegal resort. It was a frightening ordeal. We wondered. Would the angry villagers murder us on our way? Would poisonous snakes attack us. Would the howling wild monkeys tear us apart or would our host at the ìllegal resort mistake us for intruders and shoot us at his front gates?
We arrived safe and sound but shook up and at dawn the next day we drove quickly away. I often think back on that experience and wonder why on earth these educated and wealthy people thought they were entitled to simply do whatever they wanted right in the middle of the ancient traditional land of these fisherman and their families. Then again, I am reminded that historically for the past few hundred years all kinds of development has occurred on Aboriginal traditional lands in much the same spirit of entitlement by smart, rich people. Thank goodness we are finally at the point in Canada where First Nation people are consulted and negotiations take place with development. Things are better than they have ever been with many of my people going to work and benefiting from development. Still, ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’, although identified by the United Nations as a right for Indigenous peoples, still alludes us.