I do not know how to feel…
I do not know how to feel, what I feel, when I stand in an old-growth mountain forest; coming out into a valley, seeing snow-capped mountains trailing off into the distance.
Euphoria unhinges my everyday moorings.
I grow immense and disappear at the same time.
1200-year-old firs and cedars as wide as some cars are long.
We craned our necks to the sky.
Immense. Serene. Immortal.
I stand in time, deep time.
Awed. Overwhelmed. Giddy.
We cross mountain snow-melt creeks, sudsy frothy-blue water rushing down from the high valleys, bursting and bubbling, heading to the sea.
The air clean, cleanest, as only spring mountain forest air can be.
These are the lands of the Musqueem, the Squamish, the Haida, and a multitude of other Aboriginal people who have walked here for timeless millennia.
I pause to hear their myths, see their totems, try to imagine their anguish.
Eagles, hawks, crows, elk, salamanders, bear. The spirits of the woods.
Time. Change. Endings. Beginnings.
We toured the Museum of Anthropology today (on the UBC campus); looked at totems, longhouses, potlatches; read the sad and painful history of the Aboriginal people; saw the beautiful and intense exhibit of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. We left overwhelmed, weak with brain cramps, depositing unseen tears at the base of majestic totems that once supported the spirit-dreams of vast Aboriginal communities.
Attempts at genocide are near impossible to comprehend for the living.
We have too much invested in the lies, we move too fast between our a.m. and p.m. commitments, we dismiss our obligations to the past – we weren’t there, it wasn’t our fault.
So what is this museum? A graveyard, a mausoleum, an apology?
Hitler wanted to preserve the Prague Ghetto as a memento to the glory of the Jews – to be maintained after they had been exterminated.
So what are these 150-year-old totems? The replica long-house, the hand-carved canoes, the porcupine jewellery, the drums?
We drove to the land of the In-Shuck-Ch people last week to pay our western dollars to use their sacred hot springs, to hear their story of survival – their land expropriated in the 1880’s for a casino/hotel/spa, only returned to them in 2007 – a “social enterprise” they have devised to help pay the bills of destitution.
We drove through spectacular mountain valleys – past the white rich party-land of Whistler and Blackcombe – deep into the material squalor of these ancient people – paying shekels to lay in their holy water.
At my sister-in-law’s graduation at the University of British Columbia, the Dean of Arts opens the ceremony by acknowledging that the campus, in fact all of Vancouver, stands on unceeded Aboriginal lands. She notes that we should be aware of this fact and acknowledge that this injustice has yet to be fixed.
Five minutes later she encourages the graduates to be like that first underclassman class of 1916, who marched to the peninsula (where the campus now stands) and demanded that a university be built on this land they had then seized. The graduates were encouraged to also be strong, enterprising, strident in the face of the status quo.
I sat there and watched as words oozed out of both sides of her mouth.
Seize the Aboriginal lands, acknowledge that you have seized that land, be humble, build a museum to the memory of those people.
Be calm. Carry on.