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Land defender visits Tiohtià:ke

Elder Bill Jones, Ka'nahsohon Kevin Deer, and Marlene Hale (left to right) pose together on October 21. Courtesy Martin Akwiranoron Loft

Elder Bill Jones of Pacheedaht First Nation has dedicated decades of his life to looking after the trees.

Last Saturday, October 21, he spoke at the Montreal Botanical Garden about the plight of Fairy Creek, where he became a prominent figure in the years-long protest against the logging of old-growth forests in the area, which erupted in the summer of 2021.

More than 1,100 were arrested for defying court orders to clear the blockades over the course of eight months in what came to be known as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. The provincial government subsequently announced a deferment of logging.

Jones is still involved in an ongoing case in the Supreme Court of Canada in Nanaimo, BC, charged with conspiracy for leading the movement at Fairy Creek alongside 15 other defendants.

When Montreal-based Wet’suwet’en activist Marlene Hale was in talks with Concordia University to put on the Saturday event called “The Evolution of Fairy Creek,” one particular question was at the forefront that guided the entire process: “How do we do this the proper way?”

Hale decided to arrange for Kahnawa’kehró:non Ka’nahsohon Kevin Deer to officially invite Jones to Tiohtià:ke – his first-ever visit here – which made the meeting of the two nations all the more meaningful.

Jones, 83, wore a purple sweatshirt from Kahnawake that was gifted to him, while Deer wore a T-shirt gifted to him from Fairy Creek, designed by land defender Will O’Connell, as a token of welcome between the two nations.

“What people from Montreal can understand is how the people of Kahnawake really are there to greet other nations and leaders and elders,” said Hale.

Jones and Deer learned further about what each other’s nations are all about – Deer shared some of the ancient treaty protocols about meeting as individuals coming from different nations with utmost respect.

“Historically, people understood that, and they’d make a fire at the woods’ edge, send a smoke signal, and then wait to be invited in,” explained Deer.

The pair also delved into their perspectives on ongoing socio-political battles they’re up against, which are united through their common goal: to protect Mother Earth. 

“At one point in time it was just a flowery word, Mother Earth, until I went vision questing and fasting, and that changed my whole perspective because now I was able to have an intimate love relationship with my Mother,” said Deer, recalling the experience from May of 1993.

He added that an approach to Earth rooted in domination is what has led to the current grim reality. “That ideology is what’s gotten us in this predicament. Because people look at the Earth as an ‘it’ or a ‘thing,’” he said.

“I think with people outside of reserves, I think we should say, ‘How did we wind up here?’” said Jones in his keynote address. “And it was, to me, very simple. Your people progress within an economic, religious system that, indeed, made you think this way, made you think that way, but not to think from within.” 

“It was so enlightening to see the two of them,” said Hale of their talk on the panel. 

Kahnawa’kehró:non Martin Akwiranoron Loft, who attended and photographed the event, was left with the same impression. 

“I thought it was a very enlightening symposium, and I learned a lot about the Fairy Creek struggle and what it means to elder Bill Jones and his people. Their sacrifice is immense.”

In their exchange, Deer also touched on the legacy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who, in the Lakota tradition, is said to have given the Lakota people a pipe and showed them how to pray. She promised to return to Earth when humans would be in dire need of help, said Deer. It’s said that the first White Buffalo Calf was born in 1994.  

“The first thing that has to happen if we want to save ourselves is we have to get rid of the monetary system. Because capitalism is all about extraction,” Deer said, adding it’s led to a precarious situation now, rooted in a lifestyle that is lazy, self-centred, lacking in awareness, and stained with indulgences. 

“We have all of these social ills. Why? Because we don’t see the preciousness of life,” he said. 

“It’s the idea that we have to stand up and protect those voices, meaning the fish, the trees, the birds, the insects, and these natural habitats, because just like us, we like to live undisturbed. All the animals like that, too.”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, October 27, in issue 32.43 of The Eastern Door.

Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.