My tribal name is Ts’mgwantsks and I am from the Gispwudwada, the Killerwhale/ Blackfish Clan of the Tsimshian Nation. In the traditions of my people my family descends from the Chief of all the Sea Monsters, the one who taught my ancestors how to host large feasts for the people and how to create laws that are in unison with the land, the people, and all the spirits remaining among us.
In respect of my ancestors who still walk with us today and those who have yet to return back to our people in the physical form, I speak today of the realities of young Tsimshians and Indigenous youth who have an enormous responsibility to strengthen the struggle of our ancestors who were taken by genocide, to strengthen our understanding of our traditional ways and thus, our communication to our ancestors, and to resist the further destruction created by the colonizers, the Hungry Visitors Who Never Left.
When I speak about the Hungry Visitors Who Never Left, I am evoking prophecies among Indigenous people about the invasion of our homelands. In Chinook, a trading language known along the northwest coast, the word for the European man is “K’umksiwah,” meaning “driftwood,” or washed-up garbage. Now in explaining this, and in speaking out against oppression, many of us young Indigenous people are called “racist,” “reactionary”, “hopelessly marginalized,” etc. etc. What is meant in this address is not a racist reaction but in creating an understanding that it is the existing colonial governments and the multi-national corporations that are ultimately responsible for the destruction of my people’s culture, our land that sustains us, and our identities and very lives that remain interdependent with all these factors. In many Indigenous cultures, people are not classified according to sterile categories but as people who are rooted to ancestral homelands with their own traditions. It is ridiculous for a racist society to turn that on us and accuse us of being racist when we are ourselves are revealing the white lies of white supremacy still prevalent among mainstream society today. And no I won’t dignify white supremacy by referring to the occupation of Turtle Island as the “Western Culture,” as the world does not revolve around the nation-states created by British, French, and Spanish regimes at the expense of the Host World, the Fourth World known as the Indigenous World. It is the land, labor, and resource base of the Indigenous World that helped create these nation-states in the first place. The majority of the world is composed of Indigenous people, and in many prophecies of Indigenous people, it is the people who know the way to live with the Mother Earth that will survive the destruction of modern lifestyles and the concrete jungles.
Today, many young Indigenous people live spiritually-imprisoned by the active process of colonization. Our people suffer from a clouded consciousness; we remain in a comatose state. The fog of colonization is so thick that the majority of people, Indigenous people as well as the Hungry Visitors Who Never Left, don’t even realize how complex, how serious, and how very relevant this understanding is to our everyday lives. We have been blinded from the reality and the truth about the oppressive systems regulating our lands and lives for far too long. It is the recent generations of the past few decades who have lost that close connection to our elders, to our regular use of our language, and to our ancestral knowledge. Many young people have lost their ability to identify their connection by not being able to know which clan and House they belong to as well as not knowing nor appreciating the deeds of our ancestors who survived the ongoing Red Holocaust of the Amerikas.
It is a spiritual war being waged against Indigenous people. We are still seen as a burden to colonial governments and the “business-as-usual” attitudes of corporate investment in our homelands. We are still seen as impediments to the further development of capitalist empires on stolen native land. We are still seen as “ignorant natives” who struggle to hold on to our cultures and identities, and as “lost souls” by the fanciful blonde-haired, blue-eyed god who commands our own people to missionize to ourselves just how supposedly lost are traditional ways are and just how dependent we are for the administration of our own colonization. We are living as slaves under the oppressive system of neo-liberal capitalism, and it is a suicidal process in which the capitalist nation-states will take their own lives by destroying the Indigenous lands in which they presently occupy. With assimilation and conformity to an unjust system, the Hungry Visitors Who Never Left will take our lives with them in this process.
It is important to note that this present system of capitalism has grown and profited at the expense of the genocide of my ancestors. When the first multi-national corporation in Turtle Island sought to exploit the land and life on our ancestral shores, biological warfare slowly took its toll on my ancestors. It is little known that smallpox spread out from the Hudson’s Bay Company fort at Victoria when infected blankets were thrown in the canoes of different families returning home along the coast. People began to get sick, warm death was approaching, bodies were left to rot on the beaches along the coast, and the Hungry Visitors Who Never Left turned the other cheek. Such a prosperous legacy with seemingly immense possibilities they now had. Ignorance was bliss, and it is also multi-generational. All this is the legacy of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the colonial government of Victoria, and the bourgeoisie Victorian class enjoying the “New World” at the expense of the blood, sweat, and tears of Indigenous people who have survived this invasion.
My experiences with the recent International Indigenous Youth Conference (IIYC) 2005 hosted here in Coast Salish territory were intense. The IIYC brought out all of these heavy themes for Indigenous youth to address and strategize around common points of unity. Although the general theme of the IIYC was “Strengthening Solidarity Among Indigenous Youth Networks In Asserting Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Amidst Globalization,” it was clear that the 513 years of Indigenous resistance in the Amerikas, popular revolutions of the people, and organized armed resistances among Indigenous people across the world on every continent, are clearly linked to the active threat of imperial colonization. Addressing and strategizing around such serious topics created an atmosphere of tense energy among the Indigenous people who gathered together to share struggles, ceremonies, and strategies of decolonization. In walking into the Gymnasium in the Friendship Centre, some people could sense the heavy energy vibrating throughout the air. That is why it was necessary for us to seek out the help of our elders and traditional people to conduct ceremony after ceremony to overcome the possible “Indian Sickness,” a sickness where one’s spirit is overwhelmed, thrown off balance, never grounded, and unhealed.
Many Indigenous communities talk about the prevalence of bad medicine throughout the villages. And on the coast, spiritually-sensitive people have talked about the “dark clouds” that lurk over some villages that are plagued by the incredibly high rates of suicide among the people. It is a mistake for our people to assume that the immense sense of hopelessness is connected to an inferiority complex, as if something is innately wrong within ourselves and who we are, as the reason that we are dying slowly. It is the dark cloud of colonization that is taking its toll, when we are internalizing oppression and letting it wreak havoc with our spirituality, is what is prolonging the genocide of the original peoples of this land.
It is the up-and-coming generation of young Indigenous people that will take up even greater energy to ensure that the survival of our nations is a strong struggle to overcome cultural genocide and to maintain our identities. It is the Indigenous youth on the rise who will refuse further attempts of the colonial nation-state to assimilate us into an empty and meaningless Kanadian identity. There is no honor in betraying our ancestors who have yet to be reborn back into our lives without an identity and without a connection to everything with meaning in life. It is the young Indigenous people that will utilize their misplaced energy and push through the fog of colonization in creating a clear and realistic vision for our future.
The Turtle Island Indigenous Youth Network that was envisioned at the recent IIYC 2005 is a network that evokes the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor: “The Elders of this continent remember and talk about a prophecy that foretold how we will come together and reunite as one. We are like a body that was broken into pieces and this body will come back together to be whole again. These prophecies would teach the Indian nations to maintain ourselves solid, united and, above all, to search for the most appropriate paths for our liberation. This new spirit of liberation will unite once again the red nations of the Northern, Central and Southern parts of the hemisphere.”
There are many who have doubt of our struggle. There have been many obstacles to our peoples because of doubt and fear as a result of colonization. We have no doubt in the Chief-in-the-Sky, no doubt of our ancestors, and no room for doubt about our people of the steps we are making to do the necessary work that we need to do. We must remember that this is a process that begins with the self, and we must take all the necessary steps to achieve the liberation that is necessary. Erasing the doubt is part of the healing of 513 years of genocide and colonization. Remembering the feeling and connection achieved during such processes as the Sacred Fire ceremony, whether guided by Mayans or Indigenous people from the northwest coast, the important thing to remember is to keep the fire burning. The fire that burned when our people came together is the fire that speaks to our ancestors who help keep us on our paths of liberation for our people. In my language, we say Hla Gwelga Lak, as a traditional invitation to a fea t. It is also a reminder that we are still here, we are still struggling to keep our momentum strong. The fire is still burning in our hearts and spirits in the name of resistance and in the name of our ancestors.
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