Mike Retasket Interview Transcript

Oct. 14, 2000
Mike Retasket
Bonaparte Band Council/Natural Resource Coordinator
PO Box 669
Cache Creek, BC V0K 1A0
(W) 250-457-9624
Fax – 250-457-9550
Cell – 250-572-2646
(H) 250-457-9740
Email – maretasket@goldtrail.com

Dave Beckwith:
The questions I'm asking everybody are what do you do and why do you do it, so those are pretty big ones. Any place in there you want to start, and we can get up and get more coffee or whatever but we’ll just be pretty comfortable with it. What do you do, Mike?

Mike Retasket:
Well, I do quite a few things. There's a lot to do this day and age. I guess the key is to share my feelings and thoughts about why I want to protect the land, about why it's important to educate people that we're not being treated fairly. That the government has done such an incredible job convincing the rest of society that we are being treated fairly and it seems that the mandate of the government is to label us as an inconvenience, as terrorists and the violator and the criminal. The real crime is the destruction of the land and the pollutants in the water and the air. It's a good feeling for me to have an opportunity of any kind to share this story, about the destruction about the sacredness of the land and of the water. So that's what I do, just like my grandfather did, too, he protected the land for me and his grandfather before him, protected the land for my grandfather. Someday I will be a grandfather and maybe my daughter and my son or will someday be just like myself. There was a time in my life when I didn't really think about the environment and then as I got older the environment started to come out at me. There was all this development in the 60's and I can remember when I was young looking at the sky and it used to be really blue. And then all of a sudden in the 80's it wasn't really like it used to be, the water wasn't blue like it used to be. I lived through that change and all this development, it ruined us. I was part of it as well you know, because I poured bleach in water or shampoo or whatever, I was part of it too. I’m just becoming aware that my actions have an impact on the rest of the environment and beginning to be a bit more careful. Even today there’s more things, I could still take more steps to begin protecting the environment. I was learning that my ecological footprint isn't as deep as it used to be, my footprint is a lot softer now and it took a long time to learn that. Just because I reached this stage where I'm at in my life, I still have a lot of learning to do, but I reached this place in my life. I wish everybody was there, but everybody isn't. We talked about this earlier about the huge cross section,

In the band?

Yah, in the band, in society, right? It reaches beyond that. So you know, I work on my ecological footprint and it's still pretty big. I like to clean and take a bath and I have a microwave and cook my food really fast and so, I'm still working.

So when you're here, you go to work at the band office. What's your position with the band and how did that come to be?

That's a pretty interesting story, I've been in Canada now for 10 years. I was born in Canada but I was raised in the United States in Washington and then later on moved down to Oregon where I worked. And then I came to Canada. I got, I couldn't live in the United States anymore. In earlier times my late brother Gary was taken away, he went to Vietnam in 1966 and then he came back in 1968. I remember him telling me a story when he was diagnosed with cancer from Agent Orange in like 1990. He said he used to sleep with an m-16 on his chest and he never got much sleep when he was in Vietnam and he thought about dying. Just a young boy when he had that m-16 on his chest. And he made it through in Vietnam but they got him anyway. He was shot with a bullet, but it wasn't of a gun, it was a bullet from the federal government of the United States who shot him by spraying Agent Orange on him. They knew that that there could be detrimental effects to anyone who had been sprayed. So I had to leave the United States because I was so mad that I was ready to take a direct action and to commit a crime myself in retribution of my brother. And today I still have some pretty hard feelings about what happened, such a great leader, such a great linguist and he had so much love and happiness and it was taken away. Like, that's all over. So I came to Canada.  I left a really really decent job in the United States. Middle income and I lived well.

Doing what?

I worked in sheet metal. Yah. I learned it quite well, I learned it as a craft and jumped right into it and I loved that work. So I moved back here, I'd never lived in Canada, but the community where I moved was really back home. I've lived on the Bonaparte Reserve here for 10 years. My family has a history of living here. We've been here now for 350 years, so my roots are here. I was learning native culture while I was in Oregon but I knew in my heart that it was really good to go back to our traditional ways. But I was in Oregon and that's not our ways. Our ways come from the Stectews, from the Shuswap Nation. They were not our ways. The ways I was learning was from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz of Oregon. They were very beautiful and good ways but it wasn't our way and I knew that it was time as well to begin learning our ways. When I began my spiritual journey into the Shuswap ways, I was like one of the first people in our family other than my brother Jack, who was practicing the traditional way. From there I continued to grow, learning more and more the ways of the land, the sacredness of the tree and water and air. So here I am in Bonaparte. I've been here now for 10 years and in that time, there was a time when I looked at this community and I took a really hard look at the community, I've seen easily 60% of the people on this reserve living well below the poverty line. And I knew it was time that I had to become a stronger Stuctewsemc people. I knew that I had to begin to make change, I had to organize, to help make that change and change is difficult. Change comes slow and it takes time and energy. So, what I learned around that path was to be committed to make a difference because alone I can't make a change but I can be committed to make a difference and I've been able to do that. I saw that our band was going into deficit. There was no growth shown in the community so I took a direct action and occupied a band office in 1997 for 4 days and 4 nights.

With a group of people?

There was about 30 people who were behind me. And realistically there was about 70 people who were behind me. But most of them were even afraid to speak out, they were afraid because they would lose that little bit of help that they were getting from the band, that they would be denied help, so they supported but they couldn't really speak out openly in public. So I took that initiative to take that kind of action. Since that time there was another election and I was nominated and I got in as a councilor for the band. I took the natural resources position, and began looking and working with the ministry of forestry and oceans Canada to find out what opportunities, funding opportunities, training opportunities that they had for the people of this community. There are about 715 people who are band members but only approximately 250 live on the reserve. As I go and talk to the government, I know our reserve’s are smaller than they need to be and there are not enough resources on the reserve to support our communities, so we have to go off of the reserve to seek employment to survive. So in meetings and protocol agreements and memorandums of understanding with the ministry of forestry we've been able to go into the forest and access some resources. It all sounds like there's been a lot of work done, realistically there is one company that is here in our timber supply area, they took 7.6 million cubic meters of wood from our land, not on reserve, but we claim all the land because in BC it's quite unique. We haven't signed any treaties; we haven't negotiated any treaties, so we're a non-treaty band. We haven't surrendered one inch of land, we haven't sold or ceded any land and we claim it all. Yet the industry comes and like I said earlier takes 7.2 million cubic meters and they award our band and the others 6 million per year and they award our band 2000 cubic meters of which we have the authority. Since I've been in Canada I've been involved in several different roadblocks around the area fighting for the Hat Creek watershed. I've been in coordination with Greenpeace and the David Suzuki foundation, the Sierra Club of Canada. We started an international marketing campaign to begin boycotting timber from British Columbia because it's stolen wood, it's stolen off our land and we are denied access to our own resources. Sometimes it's been quite scary to be on the front line, but I wear these braids as a warrior. My grandfather died in this battle. As their generation attended residential schools, my grandmother on my father's side attended the mission Indian residential school on the coast, my grandfather on my father's side attend the mission residential school, my grandmother on my mother's side attended the Kamloops Indian residential school, my grandfather on my mother's side attended the Kamloops Indian residential school, my mother attended the Kamloops Indian residential school as did my father. Ten of my brothers and sisters also attended the Kamloops Indian residential school. There was this young boy and he was raised in the old ways of his grandmother because that's the way it was done. While his mother and father were out in the fields or out hunting and gathering food for the wintertime, it was the grandparents' responsibility to take care of the little ones. And so this little boy, he loved the language, he loved the medicines of the land, he learned all of the tools that he needed to survive. He grew a braid, he grew his hair and braided his hair and each time when he wrapped it, every day when he braided his hair and he wrapped his braids, a prayer was said. And those braids gave him strength. Those braids represented his strength. And one day this man in a black robe came by and explained to the grandparents that he had to take this little boy away, but that it would be okay, that they would teach him another way of survival, they would teach him another language, they would teach him about spirituality. So the day came and the man in the black robe came back and he took the little boy. And he took the little boy a long way. And when he got to this place where they were going to go, the little boy was really excited because he had seen all these other little kids running around. He wanted to play but he had to go do some things first. The first thing that they made him do was to get into a line, he got into a line and when it came his turn in line there they told him to take all his clothes off. He thought it was kind of funny. He had a talk with his grandparents before he left, they told him not to worry, they taught him everything that he needed to do in order to survive, they taught him about the creator looking after him, so not to have any fear. So the little boy took his clothes off and it was okay, because he had seen everybody else had theirs off. So, once they had his clothes off they made him get into another line, and when he got into that line and it was his turn in line again, this time they dumped this white powder all over him from head to toe. He thought that was kind of funny, it was lice soap that they dumped on him. He couldn't quite figure out what was going on, but everybody else around, too, all the other children are around him with white powder all over them. And they were all in line again and this time when it was his turn in line again it was his turn to take a shower, warm water that felt really good on his body, he wanted to get that soap powder off and it felt good, he knew that water was safe he knew things were going to be okay. So he took a shower and warm water was going over his body and when he got done they made him get into another line. When he got into the line and it was his turn in line, the next thing that they did to him was they cut his braids off and it was that little boy's first experience at the Indian residential school. And today, that little boy he is a warrior, he is a survivor, he is a ward of the federal government, his number is 68600252 he is a third generation ward of the federal government. He wakes up every day with love in his heart and forgiveness and every day learning more.

Yes. Your father went to that residential school. Tell me the story that you heard from your cousin about your father.

One thing that the government and the church did with the people in the residential school was they did teach them skills. But, the skills that they learned weren't to be an executive of a business, they weren't to be a corporation leader, they were learned to be the laborers, the women were taught to sew and the men were trained to be carpenters, physical laborers. And my father learned to be a bricklayer and he was quite well known for his intelligence and for his learning of the English language. When my father went to the Indian residential school he didn't know one word of English and when he was done with residential school he knew English and he still carried his native language secretly because it was taken away from him. If he ever spoke it he would be in trouble for that and punished. But, he made it through and he survived the residential school and he became a bricklayer. One of his first jobs was to lay bricks for the Indian residential school. My cousin told me the story that he couldn't acknowledge the other Indian students as he was working, building the school. He wouldn't even look over at them. But they knew because he would put a little bit of money by these trees and just leave it there and later on the Indian students in the school would go over there and pick up that money. Even if it was just a quarter, my cousin told me that a quarter would buy them some tobacco or would buy them some snoose so it would go a long ways, that quarter. It makes me happy when I hear good stories about my father.

Yah. That's an activist, isn't it? It really is, as he is laying bricks, he is also thinking how can I undercut this system of separation? So you know from your cousins that your dad was a subversive, even though he was an excellent bricklayer and a craftsman, he figured out a way to get quarters to the kids.  You could have gone a lot of different ways, even after coming home here to the reservation and to the band, what was it that made you an activist instead of a person living in his house trying to get by. Do you remember when you went to your first demonstration, your first roadblock, I mean the occupation didn't just happen over night. You didn't just wake up in the morning and say I think I'll be an activist today. Do you remember that transition and why?

Yah, but see, taking over the band office wasn't really my move. I came home from work and I was actually in the bedroom changing out of my work clothes and I came out and someone had walked into our house, because I always leave my house open, it's always open for whoever comes by. I was in the bedroom changing and I came out and someone was coming here and they came to grab my drum, and I came out of the bedroom because I heard somebody there and he said, oh, we took over the band office. I said, oh really, well just a minute, I'm going to get dressed and I'll come down, I mean, I'll support. So when I got there I guess they put me in charge. And so,

So it was your drum that got you involved, interesting.

Yes it was. You know that drum; I really wanted a drum. You know that we didn't really use, we value money differentially, you know it's not really important. Before our first contact we had a totally organized society, we had political organizations and we were totally self-sustaining. Since that time I've changed, but I really wanted a drum but I refused to pay, you know, I could go buy one if I really wanted one, but that's not our way. And so I really wanted a drum and it came back to, I've got to go get it here, I've got to make my drum and so I did that. Finally, after waiting 8 or 9 years, I finally decided yah, I'm going to get a drum and put the word all around maybe as a gift, but I never got one, so,

The deer was waiting for you,

And I needed it, and the deer was. That was a nice day when I got that deer. Because I had been trying and trying and trying. The idea came to me, because I was, and this is no kidding, I would take the gun and I would put the bullet in there and I would see the deer and I would pull the trigger, I am not joking for one second, the gun wouldn't fire, it wouldn't shoot. Finally this one day, this is after 7 or 8 days of trying to get a deer and finally the gun shot and I got it. And I knew I would have a drum.

So the people around you saw leadership in you. And once you arrived at the occupation they put you in a position of trust, of leadership. You said before that your grandfathers protected the land, do you know that there is a history of activism in your family, of leadership?

Well my, grandparents they were, I guess all Shuswap people are really simple people. We don't require much to survive. We tried to live off the land as much as we can. We strive for harmony just like our grandparents used to do. I guess activism is part of survival. I guess that the activism of my father it is instilled in our blood, the blood that is running through my veins is the same blood that my father had, so yah, I guess we were all activists. And the old ways, we wouldn't be maybe as direct as today. Maybe the old ways would be inner. My grandfather yes he was an activist, he went to Ottawa in 1910 and he told the government that this is our land that we haven't sold, that we're simple people that we only want to speak the truth, that we have nothing to gain by going to Ottawa, nothing to gain for ourselves, this is for the entire nation. And he signed a document to Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1910, which enticed Sir Wilfred Laurier to come to British Columbia to begin dialogue with the First Nations people, and my grandfather was a part of that. And if you looked at that document today, the same words that they used 100 years ago applies today. So yah, my grandfather was.

The Retasket name is on the parchment of that document.

Yes and it is, and it's kind of funny the Retasket name, Retasket made it through the whole Indian residential school experience. It was probably because my family was a descendant of the hereditary chief. It came to me that Retasket is a Statlmx Indian word that means quick tempered.

I'm not sure if from my experience it applies, but I would imagine that there's a temper that's there.

Yah. Sometimes when I see logging trucks going by our house every three or four minutes, I watch our resources being depleted, which I feel that we as first nations people are the most impacted by that, by industry and logging and clear cut logging, because it impacts our water it impacts our medicine and we still go to the land for our food and so our, the game are getting less and less. The road building allows more hunters to go out and get access to the land. It hurts me to see all of the destruction. And the ministry, or the industry, they say that it's sustainable logging and realistically when I dialogue with industry, I realize now that it's just sustainable in that man's life time, that's sustainability. But I know that just in, in not very many years there's going to be 14 billion people on earth rather than 6 billion, in a few short years that population is going to double and each one of us has demands for their home. I live in a nice home here, fir and spruce and pine and everything in this house and so I have my house. And the funny thing is about this house here; we had to go down to town to buy the lumber to build this house. Rather than going into our resources and access our own resources, and now we have this house. And that's one of the misconceptions as well of people in society that think that these houses were given to us. We have to pay for our houses. It's the worst myth that the government has convinced the people that we get free medical, that we get free education that we get free counseling and also that we don't have to pay taxes. But those resources were derived off of our territory and those taxes that are paid; those taxes are derived off of our resources.

So it's a partial rebate,

It's partial and when we do go to the government for help; we are forced to live 67% below the poverty level. So that's why we are the most severely impacted by forest activities because we still have to go through land in order to survive.

Mike, you said a number of times, we are impacted, we have, and this is an interesting question to me, who do you mean when you say we. I mean there are a lot of different levels, you have a family that lives in this house, you have a family that goes beyond this house, you have the band, I mean, how far beyond the front door do you see that we, as you think about organizing, as you think about issues, as you think about activism.

It's all of British Columbia. And the reason I say that is because again we haven't negotiated or surrendered any land and we claim it all. It's a gift given to us by the creator, the creator placed the red nation in this hemisphere in order for us to take care of the land, he gave us that responsibility. And we can look up into the hills and see what's happening when we're not able to take care of the land. The creator knew generations ago when he gave us this land, North and South America that we would be caretakers, but the creator also knew that the black nation would have to come here in order to survive. The yellow nation would have to come here in order to survive and the white nation would have to come here to survive. So he gave us everything we need in abundance, to give us the vital things. And now you can see what happens when we're not able to take care of it. It only took 200 years of rape of the land and destruction of our territory, defamation of the land and resources, the rivers and lakes, and ocean shores, are constantly being polluted. Barely leave behind the ruins that are that are being filled by the rejected sectors of human society. So if I'm impacted by a forest activity, so is the neighboring nation impacted, because I'm impacted. So is the neighboring nation to that community, because it's happening over there as well, it's happening in all 4 directions. And as we go to the table to talk, if we invite the ministry and government and all this stuff, we sit around at the table and talk for a full day of meetings and then we go our direction, but the government, or industry sits around, for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, trying to counteract us. They have linguists and people who know the language. They’ll do anything to try and discredit anything we do. That's the government mandate. You know King George the III in 1763 in the royal proclamation said that any unceded land is to be held in a trust for the indigenous people of North America and that hasn't happened. In 1763 when the royal proclamation was signed by King George the III, they only realized that the land went as far as Manitoba and so everything west of Manitoba is unceded territory. Since that time Alberta and Saskatchewan have negotiated treaties, but British Columbia hasn't, we have not sold our.

The question of what you do extends beyond the leadership role that you have in the band. What are some other things that you're involved with, like the urban/rural mission?

I seem to protect a lot of areas, sometimes I do the direct action but sometimes there are other groups, I'm involved with the Thompson Basins Fisheries Council. Now the Thompson basins fisheries council promotes fish goods and they work hard to restore fish and salmon habitat on the Bonaparte river. The Bonaparte River is 150 miles long and to repair habitat even on 400 meters of stream bank it costs an enormous amount of money, so it does take a group like the Thompson basins fisheries council. As a group it's 50/50 native and nonnative, men and women, and it's enlightening to be sitting at the table with such a remarkable group of people. We all have the same concern of protecting the salmon. I also sit on the Secwepemc cultural education society, a committee member. We promote language and culture. You mentioned a group called the urban rural mission, a group of community activists and community organizers who share similarities through story telling. Through that, I’ve learned self-empowerment,

And that's, how wide a scope is that?

It's global. There are people from all over the world that are in the urban rural mission, which is sponsored by the world council of churches. One of the best things that could have happened to me was to become a member. By watching other people and hearing other people's stories then I learn in a matter of no time that I am no longer a victim, I am not a victim of what has happened in my life. I became self-empowered and I became stronger to stand up for my rights just like my grandfather did. We do claim aboriginal title and rights to all this land. Also I am involved with our band council, like I said, after the occupation and they had elections I got in, and I became the natural resource coordinator for the band. There's been some pretty interesting developments here, that have happened, Dave, I know that when you came through and you looked at Kamloops Timber at the all these logs in this field and they were making chips with this wood,

Giant, 100, 2, 3, 400 year old trees,

Western Hemlock. You know, across the street from there was a toxic landfill. I believe that is one of the most unsustainable things happening in British Columbia today. Garbage coming from Vancouver, Vancouver Island and from the interior, the Thompson regional district. We receive approximately 500,000 tons of garbage from those areas. The trucks coming from Vancouver are then filled with the chips, which subsidize the trucks heading back to Vancouver. Like I said, it's the most unsustainable practice happening in British Columbia today. In the area, all of the western Hemlock has been clear cut and now they go to Cranbrook and Revelstoke to get western Hemlock to make the chips. They want to expand the Cache Creek landfill. They asked Bonaparte’s permission to do it, but we stand, just as we have in the 1980's, under the direction of our elders that we oppose any expansion. Since 1863 when the smallpox epidemic hit this reserve the remains of the Secwepemc people are buried underneath that landfill, they are buried so it is sacred land. We hold that land as sacred and the reason we buried bodies over there and not in our normal cemetery was that those people they died of unknown causes and we didn't want to disrupt the spirits of our past chiefs by putting the remains in the same cemetery. Actually when they expand the landfill they are going to bury the bodies of our ancestors.

And then the other interesting thing about land use in this series of valleys is these shaded crops, this organic product, ginseng. Tell us about that, the giant fields that they've created.

Yah, ginseng was a huge promotion for health and this area is dry and humid and it's the perfect growing climate for the ginseng. Huge corporations came in and began planting the ginseng and some of the natives out of need began being laborers in these ginseng farms. It wasn't long after that we learned some things about ginseng that all the herbicides that they spray on the land and all the acres and acres and acres of ginseng, there is cultural disruption because for any other use of the land that, they desecrated the land.  It's an unacceptable practice.

How often do they spray with herbicide?

They spray every 4 days, this herbicide to keep infections and mold and stuff from growing on the ginseng. They don't tell the public that. They just tell them it’s health food, and people buy it.

Well, it’s beautiful country. There are two areas I want to go into; I'll remember whichever doesn't sound interesting to you at first. One is what's the sort of state of activism as far as you're concerned. If you look around you in your communities and at the world of activism that you move in, how's it going? And the other is, what is it that sustains you through the hard times into the next challenge, what keeps you going. So either one, how is it going in general or what is it that gives you strength?

In British Columbia it's pretty funny. We finally have an opportunity to kind of quote, "come to the table" to begin negotiations. It started out in 1986 with the comprehensive claims policy. Which if we want to begin negotiating with the federal government and the province we have to sign up for the treaty negotiations which we totally refuse, it's unacceptable as a matter of fact. If we were to negotiate a land treaty we must first go to our native nations, our neighbors over in Shwilup or Whispering Pines or our other neighbors in other First Nations reserves. We must first negotiate within ourselves and that hasn't happened. Some people have chosen to negotiate with the federal government and the province first. When they make that choice and when they sign the agreement and principles to begin negotiations, they must first extinguish the aboriginal claims and then negotiate. The rights that we claim to the land are confirmed in the constitution of 1982, confirmed in the royal proclamation of 1763 and defined even further in the December 11, 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Delgamuukw that we do hold aboriginal right to the land. So, it's those things in life that keep you going. It's those visions that I know in my heart, and I know that the creator knows that we hold aboriginal title to this land. Some day maybe when, if we were given the justice to which we are entitled, that would be a good thing because we would make sure that there's no starvation. Because we know too that the creator, he doesn't really see color.

So what sustains you through the hard times is knowing that you're right.

And knowing that I believe in the creator just like the sun rises every day is faithful, I know that the sun is going to rise faithfully every day and that is the faith that I have. I know that the creator sees what happens and that's where I get strength for forgiveness. As I sit right here I must also admit that I am a very human being, that at times I 'm not really the nice guy that I pretend to be. I'm a human being and so because I ask forgiveness for those times as a human being, then I must choose to forgive and that's what keeps me going is my faith in the creator.

It's clear to me also as I see you in just your every day work, in your life, the last couple of days that you're in the middle of a very wide family. Is that part of what's important to you also? Does that support you in your work?

It does. It does a lot of things for me, you know. First of all it provides me with an opportunity, an opportunity for healing, an opportunity for expanding my family to my extended family, and you know, you are in our family tent, and you're welcome here at any time. So are other people who are in the struggle. So, by being able to have contact through the urban rural mission council with the other organizations that I'm a part of, yah, that's where I get strength from.

What's the state of activism in first nations, aboriginal people?

In British Columbia the natives are restless!

I like that!

It's because the treaty negotiations and the government are convincing the rest of Canada that they're treating us fairly. And at the same time, it's kind of like, and I've called it an October star before, it's kind of like the government is dangling this carrot in front of the natives and they have the natives of BC really believing that they have something coming to them if they decide to negotiate. But the government is talking as we're talking right here, they're strategizing, these huge think tanks and these institutions of the federal government get the best thinkers, get the best linguists, get the best lawyers, because they know that when we challenge them in the courts a lot of times we win. But we don't have resources to challenge them on every issue. And that's what's holding us down, really holding us down. We are living under forced rural poverty. The United Nations ranked Canada as the number one nation in the world to live in. But when you apply the same criteria to the indigenous people in this country of Canada, we rank 47th in our own land.

As we have been driving around and looking, you had said, well, we can drive for a couple of hours in that direction and there would be an occupation and over here a couple hours there is another group that's doing a road block. We don't always read about it, it doesn't make the news like Burnt Church. How often do we see that kind of thing, direct action activism?

It's happening in our quarter actually right now. There's a roadblock in Williams Lake, there's a roadblock in Melvin Creek, there's a roadblock down in the Siska Nation, they are all around us. Here in Bonaparte I am really working as hard as I can to come to an understanding that, and I'm not afraid at all for one second to take a direct action such as a road block, but I do understand that a road block would break down any form of negotiations that we could possibly have, any protocol that we would possibly have. It would label us as terrorists. It would label us as just these horrible people who are just trying to protect the land, who are just seeking a piece of the pie, who are just seeking the simplest thing you know, and that's just a decent quality of life, to be ranked number one in the world, like the rest of Canada, and it's being totally denied. And this is going to happen, Dave, along the way. Now that you know those things, now that you know that we've been abused in residential schools, that our languages were taken away that we were starved, that we were taken away from our families, that we were denied access to our resources that we were trained in the lower level form of jobs, I want to ask this question as strategy, because strategy for you is something you’re used to. You’re going to head back to the east and you're going to go into the quote "volatile" area of Burnt Church and other areas along the way. Now that you know those things have happened it's going to be up to you to share that. You have a wonderful opportunity as well in the writings to let the people know that that's happening to us. To let them know the truth. And we call that "hunahwe" the truth. You know, because the truth isn't being told.

And the truth has power.


What do you think it's going to take to expand activism and to support the activism that's out there? How can somebody help, how can we make it stronger, how can we build the practice of organizing.

There was a time when a letter of support did a lot. It's beyond that now; it's beyond that level of support. So, so if the natives take direct action to protect a piece of watershed and that direct action requires a road block and the people are standing on the front line, all of the natives dressed in red camouflage, it's going to take the tribes of the four directions to be standing there in line. Not just the natives, the protection of the land that the natives are seeking isn't just for this lifetime, it's protecting it for 7 generations, it's protecting the land for the unborn. We have nothing to gain by protecting it for our life.

That's what got us into trouble in the first place.

Yah, yah.

I'm thinking also of the folks who are actively organizing for change, how do we find them, how do we support them? What's it going to take to help them get stronger?

That's a good question. The example that I've seen is the people of our community, when I took the direct action against our own people it hurt me to have to stand up against our own people first in order to help us grow. And I've seen the split in this community, I've seen people afraid for repercussions, I've seen people who are afraid because they were intimidated. And I refuse to be intimidated by our own people. My relatives, they actually intimidated me, they threatened me. But it didn't matter because I'm looking at the overall picture of what's happening, or what isn't happening, there wasn't enough growth in our community. And it has been a matter of a short time of 19 months that I held an office in council for our band and there has been a little bit of growth there. Quite a good-sized portion of the debt has been paid off. We figure by the end of March, by the end of the fiscal year, we'll be back to ground zero again and out of debt. From there, you know it's going to open a lot of doors, a lot of channels a lot of opportunity for the people in the community and it's going to be a very exciting time for us. So, the restlessness of the natives is working! It's a matter of all these communities around us, and as well as within us.

What is an example of when activism and organizing has worked effectively? I call this question the magic moment question. When you knew you were doing the right thing, give an example.

One of the things I guess was to come and dialogue with the Rainforest Action Network, to begin dialogue with the Sierra club, to begin dialogue with the president of the international marketing campaign, to call a boycott of British Columbian wood products. And then to see the repercussions of calling out the international marketing campaign on the local company here, it impacted. It was a victory. They are still logging all over, every direction you can see they are still logging.

How did you know that they woke up to the reality of that international campaign?

Because they denied it, they denied it had impact on them. And when over 90 people got laid off from their business, they haven't returned to work and when we sat down at the table the industry threatened us, well those people living on Bonaparte, they're not working anymore. And I said, that's okay, they're not breathing glue from your plywood plant anymore, you know, they're still surviving, we'll take care of them. All five of them!

That's right! And that's supposed to be a deal.


And that international marketing campaign is really working, I understand that the major building supplies stores are now recognizing the ban, that the what's it called, certification?

The Forest Stewardship Council certification, yah. Well, it is going to be effective when we go into these stores that buy those products from that source.  We're going down to this big retailer saying don't buy this wood it's stolen right off of our territory, and if the forests are destroyed now, it’s forever! And it becomes pretty effective. It did take the international marketing campaign to do that because what they did for us was determine where the wood was going. You can't walk into the industries' door and say where does all the wood go? They wouldn't really tell you!

Would you mind telling us what retail outlets we might visit to find your, to visit those?

They're in the United States and they're in Japan and in they're in Europe and they're. But through the international marketing campaign we, and the natural resources defense council they were able to help us determine where those wood products are ending up and from there the action network could begin the marketing campaign.

And you went on an action in Atlanta, didn't' you?

I was in Atlanta for just 3 hours and we occupied a federal building in downtown Atlanta. The purpose of the protest there was that there in Atlanta, well in the southern states I guess, a new law was passed for the people living in the southern states who depend on welfare for their survival, laws were passed that they can only receive social welfare for 90 days.  In many situations that isn't enough time to find a job, it isn't enough time to, you know, so the protest was about buying more time. What happened was, in the southeast, there’s a natural disaster set up. The hurricanes had come through and destroyed the land and that even impacts those margin line people. Sometimes when a natural disaster comes it doesn't take more than 90 days for them to really recuperate their well being and their life style back again. When a natural disaster comes through and the federal government went in to the areas to do reformation, they went to the richer neighborhoods first and by the time they got to the slums the funding had run out. So, the direct action in Atlanta was to openly talk about the disaster relief racism. And I was very glad to be part of that. During the protest they asked that the man from British Columbia would like to say anything and I took the opportunity. When I stood up I first of all thanked the Georgia State Police and the Atlanta City police department for sending so much support! They brought their guns, we might need them. But at the same time, I was able to help the international marketing campaign by informing those people of what is happening with the wood in British Columbia and I asked them when a national disaster does come through, and there is a huge demand for plywood not to buy that wood from BC because it's stolen.

So you were at a welfare action in Atlanta, was this under the auspices of urban rural mission that you were connected with that?

There was a meeting of the urban rural mission in Atlanta and a group of people who were doing a presentation at the urban rural mission. They told us about that and we said, we'll go support. And we went there.

Great, great. So would you say you're hopeful about social justice and social change?

Yes, I am hopeful. I am determined to make a difference. It's going to be a life long commitment, Dave. Just like my grandfather died in the struggle, I know that I'm going to die in this thing because I'm protecting this land for my children and the unborn, too.

In some ways the question is how wide do you define the struggle. If you can see and you act on the connection between the struggle for land and resource management issues and economic justice and the housing needs of people in your band, in the very small community that you're in elected leadership with, you see and create the connections between that and the folks fighting around whether or not there's going to be a ski slope. Not only that, but the connection to that and the welfare issue in Atlanta. Are you hopeful about that wider struggle as well?

Yes, I am. You know, it's one of the things that I see is happening you know, even now in organizing. I know that we sometimes think that we're not organized enough, that the federal government doesn't even have to lift a finger. I'm watching these little skirmishes even between ourselves and we can become more organized. I think a good comparison about organization is in Canada there are 686 individual Indian bands. If we could become one Indian band our voice would be strong. And I'm not just speaking one Indian band in Canada. I'm speaking one Indian band in the Western Hemisphere. If we became one Indian band and we became organized like that, woohoo! Then we would have it made. That's a long ways away. That's a long ways away.

So I, you know, I have sort of two closing questions and again this is one of those things where you can choose whichever one you like best and then I'll ask the other one. First, is there anything that I forgot to ask you about that you think is important to talk about to get on the table? The other is do you have any questions or observations for others?

Okay, I like the second question. Like now, and I almost got to this point earlier. As we find out, more and more people in society are finding out about the injustices that have happened to us. By those people not standing up or just ignoring those things that have happened to us, that's like accepting it, that's like saying it's okay that we were abused sexually, physically, mentally, morally abused. Now that people know that, what are you going to do about it, now that people are going to hear this story and find out about the abuse, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to just grab the remote control and just ignore it? If you ignore it that's like saying it's okay that that happens.

Good. And so now I have to remind you of my other question, what have I forgot to ask you about or what are the issues or points that you want to talk about that we haven't discussed about organizing and activism or,

In our organizing, I've been to the huge marketing campaign, and there's been political actions as well. When I get to some of those huge political rallies and protests down in Vancouver or wherever they are at, I'm proud to be there as a supporter but I know that first of all I have to clean up my own backyard, here in this tiny community here, there's still work to be done here. Although it's very interesting and very exciting to be part of the vibrant picture of our movement, I need to become a more humble person and help teach people here. I could easily go into the huger picture and be accepted by others, yes, but that time will come, I'm here now and I've got to help here. I want to help this community and then eventually these people will be able to help themselves you know, self-empowerment, no longer victims of what is happening in their lives. They'll have a confidence. You know, this happened with 4 generations of those residential schools, and that has a major impact on us, but we survived. And no matter what has happened, no matter what the government has tried to do to us, we survived and we endured and we are going to continue to endure.

One of the great victories is surviving and you said before that the simple survival of the language and the culture and history of your community is a victory. To me one of the stories that really typifies that so beautifully is the story of the women warriors' song which we didn't tell last night and I'd like it if you could tell the women warrior story.

A long time ago, in a residential school we were taken away from our language and our culture and our families. The creator watched the whole thing happen. Many people forgot the language completely, my companion is a perfect example, she used to be fluent in the Cree language. After the residential school she just refused to speak it any longer. One of my best examples of our survival is the women’s warrior song. It was almost taken away from us, but the creator made sure that one woman remembered it, her name is Janet Pasko. She is from the Mount Curry Indian reserve. And the song came back to her in 1953 in a sweat lodge. The creator made sure that it was taken care of, he is very understanding and loving, he loves us so much he gives us ceremonies to make us strong. So I want to sing the woman's warrior song:


I know that where there is a man who is in power, things are really going to be tough, the power is taken away from the woman, the life giver of the earth. When the day comes and the woman goes back into power then things are going to be really good, because women are the organizers, they are the ones that can't take this.

Okay, thanks. Well, I don't have anymore interview questions. Any closing thoughts?

I really, and I told you this before, but I want to document this too, Dave, that I admire what you are doing. I think that it is totally unselfish, you giving your time and your family. You know my prayers will follow you on your journey, that you will be able to accomplish everything that you want to do on this wondrous journey that you have chosen to take, that the Creator guided you. I hope that your mandate is fulfilled, yah.