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All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nationby Ian Gill
From Chapter 7, They Say
The elders. On a cold miserable grey day, they had come — Ethel Jones, Watson Pryce, Ada Yovanovich, Adolphus Marks, then in their 60s and 70s, faces etched with the experiences of a century that had been cruel to their people and their land — stepping slightly unsteadily out of the helicopter and, in their own quiet way, taking charge of the blockade. Blockades are interesting,” writes Ted Chamberlin in If This is Your Land, Where are Your Stories? They function like the threshold of a church, or the beginning of a story; and they need to be acknowledged if proper respect is to be paid to those for whom the place is sacred or appropriate contempt shown to those who are polluting it.” In coming to Athlii Gwaii, to the threshold of the blockade that the Haida had constructed, the elders consecrated their protest. Guujaaw had spent his youth learning from the elders, recognizing their authority, and most of all, listening. In turn, as Guujaaw and an increasing number of younger Haida had put protection of the land on the top of the political agenda on Haida Gwaii, the elders had listened — and by coming to the blockade, they were recognizing Guujaaw, Miles and the other young leaders, and validating their stand. Miles Richardson: They basically told us, weve heard what you have to say. Weve been silent about this most of our lives. Weve wanted to make this stand, and today" — Richardson fights back tears when he recalls what the elders said that day — and today, we ask you to respect that.” The elders came to assert their right not just to support the blockade, but to become its front line — to take charge of the rituals and administer the sacrament. The warriors were asked to melt away to the sidelines, to quiet their bravado in favor of the gentle but persuasive voices of the elders.
Film footage from the blockade captures their determination. Ethel Jones says: This is our land and you know, we definitely arent afraid of going to jail. Maybe thatll open our governments eyes. Look at this little old lady sitting in jail. For what? For protecting their land? Weve slept long enough.”
Ada Yovanovich: Were here to protect our land, and if thats a crime, Im willing to go Im over 60. It doesnt really matter as long as I have some fancywork to do. No, I dont mind at all.”
Adolphus Mark: Well Im here to support my younger generation thats here now. And we have good reason to be here. When you ride around and you see the mountains all gone, all the trees stripped clean and its not only for us, but for white mans generation to come, too. What are they going to make money from when youve stripped the islands?” And in an echo of his ancestors seventy years earlier in front of the McKenna-McBride Commission, Aldophus Marks says, Were protecting our island. Its our island, before white man come only 200 years ago. And how come the government want to make a claim on it, I want to know if the government made this island, or the good Lord? Id like an answer to that Did the government make this island, now they claim it? Were fighting for our rights the government didnt make this island, no way.”
As Guujaaw puts it, The elders clearly represented our linkage to all our history. These are people who had a lot of living behind them and were not just a radical fringe element going out to raise heck with the government for the sake of doing that.” Diane Brown is Ada Yovanovichs daughter and is related to Guujaaw via an adopted mother, who was Guujaaws grandmothers sister. She was one of the few younger women on the line at Lyell Island, and she remembers the importance of the elders joining the blockade. They brought dignity to what we were doing. They brought validation, they brought history, and they brought the future.”
Watson Pryce hoped that, with elders showing up and getting arrested first, it might do the trick. But it didnt work right away. Lots of others had to block the road before they could stop it altogether.” Over the course of several weeks, seventy-two people were arrested on Lyell Island, Guujaaw, Miles Richardson and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas among them. But the elders went first. Ethel Jones was led away. Then Ada Yovanovich, reading from the Bible (2 Timothy, v.7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course” — and Watson Pryce and Adolphus Mark. As Pryce was to discover, four elders getting arrested — an event broadcast on national television — wasnt enough, so the warriors got their day too. Or rather, their days. A ritual was established, something that has come to happen with increasing frequency in Canada in confrontations between developers and environmentalists, industry and Indians. An early morning, workers on the road, protesters blocking their way, a single process server, RCMP officers, sometimes cameras, sometimes not — and just enough arrests for everyone to leave the scene feeling theyve accomplished something. On Lyell Island, for almost one month, the process server was there most mornings, offering up injunction papers that fell to the ground when protesters refused to take them, papers that were then used to fan the protest fire. Got any more?” someone joked at one point when their fire was dying and there werent enough court papers to fuel it.
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