General News · 15th September 2022
Dear Cortes Community,
I would like to add my voice to those of you who have condemned the recent racist actions against the Klahoose Chief, Steven Brown. Like many of you, I was deeply saddened to read the Chief’s message and even more distressed to discover that I was not as shocked as I should have been. Sadly, for every step forward we take as a society towards reconciliation, it can feel like we take two steps back - back to the same old ignorance and delusion that lurk in the shadows of our dark colonial past. But I suppose the only way to expose darkness is to bring it into the light. So here we are.
For several years now, I have been working in the realm of governance of the islands south of Cortes, where reconciliation, climate action, watershed protection, and community development are top priorities for most local governments. While most folks can agree that all of these goals are laudable, in practice they don’t always coalesce and can often collide. This is where we can begin to see the largely-unconscious hierarchy of values that we each hold as individuals…and what we’re willing to sacrifice when the chips are down. I don’t wish to preach to others about what their hierarchy of values should be. But I have observed that despite all the good words and principled intentions, many people’s commitments to reconciliation crumble under pressure from competing needs and desires - including what we perceive to be noble desires like environmental protection. I have been challenged by some of these difficult questions myself and have discovered many unconscious biases lurking in the shadows of my own heart and mind. This is indeed, as others have suggested, a good opportunity to reflect and move into new understanding. From my perspective, this is the true work of reconciliation. Change hearts and minds and the systems will follow.
The fact of the matter is that, as Chief Steven Brown expressed, the Klahoose have been stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial. This sacred role and responsibility is bestowed by the Creator and cannot be taken away even by the most atrocious acts of genocide we have witnessed in this country. To begin to understand the palpable connection between economic sustainability and healing of the Klahoose People and environmental sustainability on Cortes, I humbly suggest that we need to stop viewing this complex world through single-issue lenses, and restrain ourselves from relying too heavily on biologists' reports to assess ecosystem health. With no disrespect to western science, I do feel that Indigenous knowledge systems tend to understand the world in a far more sophisticated, nuanced, and integrated way than most western scientific methods could ever aspire to. And, from personal experience, what I feel most strongly when I spend time in these magical forests is their longing for renewed relationships and spiritual reconnection with humanity, most notably with the original caretakers. Virtually every social ill I can think of can be traced back to the loss of this sacred relationship and I dare say that we cannot begin to truly understand “sustainability” without it. So, in my humble opinion, this is the wound that is in need of healing first and foremost.
While the Klahoose People may not all agree on community priorities, they have their own governance processes that attend to divergent points of view, just as we do in settler society. Therefore, tremendous respect and deference is owed to the Klahoose Chief and Council. What an arduous task they have in front of them…only to be pushed down and re-traumatized by systemic racism at every turn. Let us all remember that Indigenous Peoples have inherent rights protected under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and, more recently, the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in BC, to self-govern, steward and access their territories for spiritual, cultural, economic, and other community purposes in whatever ways they see fit. So, in addition to our moral and ethical responsibilities towards reconciliation, it is also the law.
When I first learned about the Cortes Forestry General Partnership some years ago, I thought it was yet another remarkable example of Cortes leading the way. Working with First Nations and island communities throughout Coast Salish Territory, I have encountered no other example like this where a First Nation has so generously offered to create a partnership with the local community and to share both decision-making and resources. I’m sure this partnership has faced many challenging questions of its own, but from all accounts it appears to be committed to shared decision-making and consensus building, with a strong commitment to the long-term sustainability of these very special forests for future generations. This is where reconciliation is made real…and it can’t be easy.
I humbly raise my hands in gratitude and respect to all involved in the CFGP, wishing you continued strength and determination for the long road ahead.