Women in the Woods as witnesses at Sun Peaks:
In our Women in the Woods outreach we have tried to align ourselves
with traditional First Nations women who are as worried about the
environment, the thieving nature of large corporations, and the lack of strong
women's voices in decision making, as we are. And recently we became
acquainted with Janice Billy and her mother-in-law Irene Billy of the
Shuswap Nation. These two women along with their other traditional women
relatives have been in the forefront of the struggle to reclaim their
historical lands and to try to stop the building expansion at Sun Peaks
resort. In order to bring attention to this struggle, the traditional
Shuswap men and supporters have built a structure called the
Skwelkwek'welt Protection Center. And even though the camp is near where the Sun
Peaks construction crew is working, the site itself is not blocking the
road. However, the very fact of the camp being there upsets the
management of Sun Peaks tremendously. It has also had an effect upon the
relationship between the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and the Traditional
natives of the Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre. So recently, when
Janice invited me to come to a meeting between the Shuswap Nation Tribal
Council and the Skelkwek'welt Protection Centre on September 16 to act
as a witness, I felt honored.
It was a very interesting meeting. It was held in the Skwelkwek'welk
Protection Centre which is still a work in progress. There are rough
hewn stout poles holding up tarps. The enclosure is large enough to hold
the twenty five or thirty people gathered there comfortably and there
is a cozy fire that takes the chill out of the misty air. There are
formalities. Gifts of apples and tobacco were offered by Chief Nathan
Matthew who represents the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. He and his
college stand while everyone else finds seats around the fire and the inner
recesses of the enclosure. Janice Billy opens the meeting and then
Chief Matthew speaks. He is concerned that there will appear to be a
division in the ranks of the Shuswap over the construction of the
Skelkwek'selk Protection Centre as a couple of the Indian bands have invested in
Sun Peaks. And because of this real and perceived division be injurious
to the people as a whole.
After Chief Matthew speaks the people from the Protection Centre speak.
Just about every everybody speak except the ones like me and Varya
Rubin, who are only witnesses. Nobody is cut off or interrupted, everybody
listens. Hot coffee is served, first, as customary, to the elders.
The coffee is strong and tastes wonderful. After a couple of hours or
so, it appeared we might be there awhile.
Chief Matthew talks caution and conciliation and then the others
speak, often eloquently, of the need to find ways aside from the long deep
morass of the law and government to impress everybody concerned that
the Shuswap Nation is grounded in law and history and expresses the
urgent desire that this law and history be recognized by the government now.
Arthur Manuel, the official spokesman for the Skwelkwek'welt Protection
Centre, counters Chief Matthew's arguments to remain committed only to
the legal proceeds as they wind their way through the system, by
pointing out that the injunction granted to Sun Peaks that demands the
removal of the camp is not based upon Aboriginal Title and Rights. But as
night falls and the camp fire blazes and salmon is placed upon the grill
a decision is reached... there is enough room in their communities for
complimentary strategies to deal with the continued expansion on
Skwelkwek'welt territory. The meeting closes on a hopeful note. And later,
as the rain sputters and stops and there is a clearing in the sky,
enough to see a few stars above the atrocious towers of the play pretend
Swiss chalets of Sun Peaks and there is singing and drumming. Lots of
singing and drumming. It's wonderful.
I'm glad we went. We need to come together, as women, and as people.
It will take all of us to overcome the poisonous hold corporations have
on all of our lives. But we can do it. I felt the power at Sun Peaks.
PS Janice Billy just phoned. Three of the native men were arrested